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Politics and tradition mingle in Polish Nativity scenes

The colorful scenes depict religious Christmas characters surrounded by cutouts of Krakow’s architecture.

Poland's Nativity scenes ranging from a few centimetres to over two metres high have been on UNESCO's World Heritage list since 2018
Poland's Nativity scenes ranging from a few centimetres to over two metres high have been on UNESCO's World Heritage list since 2018 - © AFP / Handout
Poland's Nativity scenes ranging from a few centimetres to over two metres high have been on UNESCO's World Heritage list since 2018 - © AFP / Handout

Figurines representing Russian President Vladimir Putin as a devil and Polish protesters were among the unusual characters making an appearance in traditional Nativity scenes in Krakow at the weekend.

The colourful scenes usually depict the religious characters of Christmas surrounded by cutouts of the southern Polish city’s impressive architecture.

They are made of cardboard and coloured paper, ranging from a few centimetres to over two metres high, and have been on UNESCO’s World Heritage list since 2018.

The Nativity scene competition was set up in 1937 to save a tradition that was dying out after the First World War. — © AFP

This week, dozens of Nativity scenes were taken on a procession through the medieval city under a steady snowfall.

The tradition goes back to the 19th century when local carpenters created them with surplus wood and paper and sold them in winter when there was less work.

“The Nativity scenes reflected what was around them — the architecture of Krakow,” Justyna Matwijewicz, a member of the jury that will be awarding a prize for the best creation, told AFP.

“They have to represent the birth of Christ… but they can also depict historical figures or characters from folklore,” she said.

In one Nativity scene, a figurine depicting Putin as a devil could be seen.

“When Russia invaded Ukraine, this tragic event was reflected in the Nativity scenes,” Matwijewicz said.

The Nativity scene competition was set up in 1937 to save a tradition that was dying out after the First World War.

This year, several “political” designs will be included — like one by 81-year-old Andrzej Majewski who has been building Nativity scenes for a decade.

“All my Nativity scenes are political because for me they have to express something,” he told AFP in the apartment where he stores many of his works.

One of them contains references to Poland’s persistent air quality problems.

The one he submitted for the competition shows a large crowd — a reference to the major recent political and social mobilisation in Poland.

“This year Poland has been in movement,” he said, as a new pro-EU government prepares to take power next week.

AFP
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