Cracovian cribs are the pieces of craftsmen work connected with Christmas representing the miniatures of historical monuments of the City of Krakow and characters from Bethlehem.
Cracovian cribs have originated from the tradition of static cribs and Nativity plays which used to be displayed in churches during the Christmas period. The most often these were the Bethlehem stables with rocky landscape in the background. The figures of the Holy Family and shepherds, sheep, donkeys, oxen. On January the 6th, the Day of Three Kings (Three Wise Men, The Magi), their figures were added. The oldest Christmas crib figures are kept in the St.Andrew’s church, monastery of Poor Clares in Cracow.
The first cribs were made in the middle of XIX century. They were made by carpenters and bricklayers from Cracow and its surroundings. This was their additional work during the dead winter season in construction work. During the Christmas time they were going from house to house with their Christmas cribs. Every year the famous group of carollers and crib makers of Michal Ezenekier would be the guest of Count Potocki’s residence- the Pod Baranami Mansion and the family of Estreichers’.
The source of inspirations was primarily St. Mary's Church, but miniatures of the Wawel Royal Castle and Cathedral, the Cloth Hall, the Town Hall, the Barbican were made as well. They were integral part of the folk theatre with the puppets. The characters have belonged to both, interwining worlds: biblical - showing the Birth of Jesus, and secular - constantly changed and updated, rooted in the historical, patriotic, social and satirical motives. In the modern cribs the puppets have been replaced by static figures, which represent historical characters, as well as the living politicians, artists; they are inspired by folk, cracovian legends (especially well known about Wawel’s Dragon).
In 1927 Antoni Wasilewski initiated the organisation of yearly competition for the most beautiful Christmas crib. Since 1937, on the first Thursday in December, the presentation and competition of cribs takes place at the foot of Adam Mickiewicz monument in Market Square, followed by the exhibition in Krzysztofory (the premises of History Museum of the City of Krakow). In crib constructions the whole generations of carpenters’ families are involved.