Attractions after Christmas Eve - Nativity Scenes, Szopka, Silvester ...and Polish Bison

During the first and second day of Christmas usually shops are closed also the main museums, theatres and so on do not work. But there are still many attractions to see.
In Krakow there are hundreds of churches in the downtown, almost all in a walking distance one from the other. People just walk from the church to church and visit the nativity scenes in numerous churches in the old town especially since the nativity scenes are not open to the public until the Christmas day.
Usually churches keep the same figures and ornaments from year to year although there is sometimes new motives added. The visiting of the nativity scenes was especially popular after the martial law was imposed. The nativity scenes in this time usually contained some "Solidarity" symbols that were bringing hope to the people.

Polish Christmas crib (szopka), see more szopkas HERE
A long-time tradition in Poland during the Christmas season is the building of "Szopki" (pronounced shop-key). Szopka is a nativity scene, usually more elaborated and ornamented than the real place where Jesus was born. Sometimes it is built like a little house or even like a real palace with two towers open in the front where a small crib is set and before which marionettes sing their dialogues or move on the rotating rings in the rhythm of Christmas carol music. Many Polish szopka contain Polish motives - like Polish nobility, coal-miners or even Polish pope bowing their heads before Jesus. The tradition of szopka reaches the 13th century. Krakow became a place of the competition among szopka builders since 1937. The awards are distributed in different categories (depending on size). Many szopka's are highly priced and sold immediately abroad after the competition. See more pictures from szopki's exhibition in the article Nativity Scenes (szopkas) from an Exhibition in Krakow

I forgot to mention earlier that before the New Year chimney sweepers in ceremonial black uniforms are walking from door to door selling special calendars with greetings from the chimney man. Since the chimney man is considered to bring a good luck nobody refuses. Of course the chimney men are visiting also the houses where there are no chimneys at all!
In villages there is an old habit of carol singers walking from village to village during the twelve days of Christmas (since the Christmas Day until the Epiphany, 6 January) with an illuminated star and singing carols. The carol singers called "herody" are usually boys in masks, one is dressed as a king Herod, another as a Polish bison (Polish "tur", the form of bison that is extinct already), another as a goat (symbol of sin) etc. Read more about Polish bizon (bizon) in the article: Bialowieza Forest; Polish Bison, Bison (bizon) Grass, Vodka & Krupnik

In towns some boys are walking with szopka from door to door and singing carols expecting also some gifts just like here during Halloween. Unfortunately some of their performances are pitiful. I remember once my brother wanted them to sing more than just one verse of the popular Christmas carol and they could not do it! You can imagine that they did not satisfy us and did not earn too much.
More official religious performances about baby Jesus birth are called "Jaselka". "Jaslo" in old Polish language means, "crib".
The tradition of "Jaselka" came from Italy (St. Francis's) in XIII century. Jaselka with figures of baby Jesus, St. Mary, St. Joseph, angel, three kings, Herod etc are often played by children and watched by their parents.

After Christmas we have a New Year's Eve. It is called Silvester in Poland.
Why Silvester (Polish, Sylwester)? Because the 31st of December is its (Silvester's) namesday. For many young people the New Year's Eve is a much more important day than the Christmas is. It is almost a rule that everybody until the age of 25, has to go out and spent a Silvester night partying, dancing and drinking. Silvester is followed by carnival dancing season which finishes with Lent. Read how Poles celebrate the New Year's Eve (Sylwester) and January 1st - Namesday of Mieszko - Founder of the First Polish Royal Dynasty.

The Christmas season terminates in Poland not after Epiphany (January 6) but on February 2. Read about the unusual timeframe of Christmas.

written by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn, January 2001 (article #22)

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