Christmas season in Kraków is unforgettable for many reasons. Festive Old Town churches, sausage sizzling in cosy street booths, colorful street decorations, and that special holiday spirit in the air. But there is one thing in particular about the holidays that’s uniquely special to Kraków: szopki, or nativity scenes (singular: “szopka”). What makes them unique? Szopki are not just classic displays of the creche with Baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Rather, they are elaborate structures that include a mix of Kraków’s architectural hallmarks, with a cast of colorful figurines giving homage to the Newborn – or simply going about their business.
While nativity scenes are common in many countries and date back to St. Francis of Assisi’s 13th century re-enactments of the Christmas story, Kraków szopki are a peculiar twist on that tradition. In their current form they date back to the 19th century when local craftsmen – trying to make a living in a winter season when construction work stopped – started to earn extra income by making the Christmas story come to live in a new way. To preserve the craft, Kraków created an annual competition in 1937 for the most beautiful szkopki. The competition still takes place every year in December at the Main Square and the winners are then displayed in the nearby Krzysztofory Palace. Read the rest of this entry
Capitol Christmas tree
Pretty much everybody knows about the National Christmas Tree
– a magnificently decorated conifer in front of the White House lit in a crowd-pleasing ceremony. The tradition started in 1923 and is still going strong. But fewer people realize that there is another great location in Washington to enjoy holiday spirit with a beautiful tree as the backdrop: the Capitol. This year the Capitol Christmas Tree
is a gorgeous Sierra white fir, 118 years old and 63 feet tall at harvest, that traveled more than 4,500 miles during its three-week tour en route to DC
from California’s Stanislaus National Forest
. Providing a Capitol Tree has become the proud task of one of the National Forests since 1970.
I skipped the lighting ceremony (mostly because John Boehner as Speaker of the House was doing the honors =) but took a walk there on Christmas evening. The sight was wonderful indeed! The tree is really massive – equivalent to about 6-story tall building – but surprisingly slender and perfectly symmetrical. 10,000 LED lights light up the night and the citizens of California prepared 5,000 ornaments that adorn the evergreen branches. For the most part they are beautiful, thoughtful, and touching although some made me wonder: a rubber chicken? Lakers t-shirt? Well, the theme was “California Shines” but still… Read the rest of this entry