The most refined forms, the most opulent and beautiful ornamentation – these are the distinctive features of Szopki Krakowskie. They have been made by Cracow masters of carpentry and stone – masonry since the mid 19th century.
The design of all these cribs as a rule refers to such historic Gothic and Baroque structures in Cracow as Wawel Castle, the dome of the Sigismund Chapel, St Mary’s Church, defensive walls, the Cloth Hall and the Old Town houses. All Cracow cribs resemble churches or palaces, having three or five tall towers with domes or slender steeples. They are pasted with glossy color paper, and colorful, shining silver paper. They captivate with the mastery of tiny architectural details, countless ornaments and fabulous colors. (More)
The Christmas Day, called the first holiday by the Poles, is spent with family at home. There is no visiting, no cleaning, no cooking on that day, only previously cooked food is heated.
St. Stephen's Day in Polish customs is known as the second holiday. This is a day for visiting and expressing Christmas greetings. And when night begins to fall, you can hear stamping and jingling, and then Christmas carol singing outside. These are carolers--Herody, who began their wandering from home to home. Herody is a popular form of caroling and this is a live performance usually, done by twelve young boys.
Dressed in special costumes they are: King Herod, field marshal, a knight, a soldier, an angel, a devil, death, a Jew, Mary, shepherds, sometimes Three Kings and an accordionist. They sing pastoral songs, carols, and when let into the house, play scenes from King Herod's life. Oration and songs vary and depend on to whom they are addressed--to the owner of the house, to a young girl about to be married, to a widow, etc. At the conclusion, they are offered refreshments and some money. No less popular is caroling with a Szopka--and with a star. Usually, those are carried by three caroling teenagers. They too are given some money.
Some time ago, caroling began on St. Stephen's Day and lasted until February 2, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Mother. Today it lasts until January 6, the Feast of Three Kings, saying then, goodbye to a merry season.
Kolendy ("kolędy" in Polish) and pastorałki are two types of Polish Christmas carols; kolendy are religious hymns celebrating the Nativity and pastoralki are the secular shepard's songs that also celebrate the birth of Christ but were never accepted as dogmatically accurate by the Church. Many of these songs, universally beloved for their sweet and hauntingly beautiful melodies, date back to before the 15th century and are still treasured by Poles today. If you are Polish or of Polish descent, certainly you have fond memories of singing kolendy in church during the Christmas season or perhaps listening to a family musician play them on guitar, violin or piano for your Christmas celebrations.
Kolendy, like the story of Christmas, never get old.