Polish Folk Circle sticks with tradition to honor the Nativity

By Burton Speakman



Teaching others to create szopkas is all about keeping the Polish traditions alive.

A group of people spent an afternoon learning how to make a szopka, which is a Polish Nativity scene, during a craft show sponsored by the Krakowiaki Polish Folk Circle on Sunday at the Austintown Public Library.

These Nativity scenes are a way for people to continue traditions that came from their parents or grandparents who might no longer be around, said Larry Kozlowski, who taught the class. Kozlowski gave each participant shapes, which they cut out to form szopkas, and then bright- colored paper to cover them.

Each person will add a character to the design, he said. Kozlowski had a couple of his creations to serve as inspiration.

“I teach these classes at a number of different places including festivals,” Kozlowski said. “I learned to make them when I studied in Poland.”

There are a lot of Polish traditions from the coloring of Easter eggs to specific foods that people are trying to keep relevant, he said.

Bernadette Zubel, from the Polish National Alliance, grew up in Poland and came to the event because she wanted to learn how to make szopkas so she can pass the information along to the numerous troupes she works with to teach traditional Polish dances.

During her youth, she had limited experience making the Nativity scenes, Zubel said.

“I only made these a couple times in elementary school,” she said.

There are a lot of people who moved to the United States and might have lost some of these older traditions, Zubel said. Polish history covers 1,000 years, and the culture varies by region of the country.

Food, costumes and dances all can vary based on where someone’s relatives were from, she said.

The small Nativity scenes can be quite involved and include a lot of different pieces, said Agi Khoury, assistant director of Krakowiaki Polish Folk Circle.

“This is a tradition in Poland. It would typically occur after the harvest season when there wasn’t a lot going on,” she said.

Some of the more-detailed szopkas can be 6 feet tall, Khoury said. The tradition of making these items dates back to the 19th century. Each year the city of Krakow in Poland has a competition where the best szopkas are placed in the city’s museum.

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