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78th Kraków Nativity Scene Contest during the pandemic

Museum of Kraków

On 3 December, the 78th Kraków Nativity Scene Contest was held. Due to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus epidemic and related restrictions, the event was held under special conditions as a substitute for the traditional meeting of Nativity artists, people of Kraków and journalists at the Adam Mickiewicz monument on the Main Square.

Every year, on the first Thursday of December, hundreds of people would gather there to see Nativity scenes entered in the competition. This is a special day for Nativity artists, gathering on Kraków’s Main Square and meeting other artists being an important part of their identity. This is a real holiday for those who cultivate the Kraków’s Nativity scene tradition too.

This year, the artists have delivered their Nativity scenes directly to the Museum of Kraków in late November, where they have waited for the jury’s decision. Nevertheless, several Nativity scene artists gathered around the monument on 3 December. Masked and distanced, at noon they listened to the St. Mary’s Trumpet Call and the Bolesław bell, a valuable piece of material cultural heritage.

They wished each other good health and the return of the contest in the Main Square in 2021, and parted their ways. 50 nativity scenes made by adults were submitted for the contest, two more than in 2019, all marked by outstanding craftsmanship. Most adult Nativity artists work on their works individually at home, where they spent more time during the pandemic than usual. Thanks to these home studios, the Nativity scene tradition has proved pandemic-proof, at least in the adult group.

The situation was different for the scenes made by children and young people. While around hundred nativity scenes were usually submitted by this group, this year has seen only 37, as kindergartens, schools and cultural centres, where many of these Nativity scenes used to be made, have been shut down.

The contest was a technical and logistical challenge for the Museum of Kraków and the Jury, whose members viewed the scenes at the Museum one by one. On 3 December, an online meeting took place the usual time, with the museum staff showing the Nativity scenes with webcams.

The decision to award specific artists was followed by a long debate. The Director of the Museum of Kraków dr Michał Niezabitowski and the Representative of the Mayor of Kraków Robert Piaskowski announced the results on 6 December Facebook and Youtube.

Nativity artists have alluded to the pandemic and lockdown realities. Some of their figures wear masks and medical uniforms. Other pieces feature a model of coronavirus in lieu of the dragon or the devil. Still others show rather subtle allusions such as a closed theatre curtain, lonely pigeons in the streets, an Asclepius cane, a symbol of medicine at the hands of the Archangel.

With the restrictions across Poland, an offline display of the Kraków Nativity scenes will not be available until 27 December. Until then, you can enjoy the online show at the website of the Museum of Kraków.

Nativity artists, Kraków inhabitants, tourists and museum professionals hope that by the end of 2020 we will be able to see this year’s Nativity scenes at the Museum of Kraków rather than just on computer and mobile screens.

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