Szopki detail in Christmas in Poland at the Knights of Columbus Museum

Faithful Interpretations

A photo essay. To view all 27 images, check out the email version.

The annual Christmastime crèche exhibition at the Knights of Columbus Museum—which can focus on the nativity tableaus produced by a country, a continent or the entire world depending on the year—is known for its intricacies and intimacies, showcasing smaller-than-life interpretations of a larger-than-life scene.

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Christmas in Poland, this year’s show, continues that tradition, but it also chooses a few moments to get life-sized. One is the replica cottage in the middle of the main room, complete with all the trappings of a wigilia—the mostly vegetarian feast enjoyed by observant Polish families on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve, signage notes, is the “most important evening of the year” for Polish Christians, and the cottage is stocked with realistic-looking foods, authentic home decorations and a kit violin and accordion to conjure the sensory mélange of a countryside Christmas in a snowy faraway land.

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Another life-sized feature rests past the cottage, where most of the show’s szopki—the plural version of the word szopka, which refers to a crèche modeled after the grand Gothic buildings of Krakow, Poland’s second-largest city—really shine. Fashioned out of wood or cardboard and festooned with various colored foils and countless tiny details, the museum has presented a number of these castle-like constructions within a display crafted to approximate the base of an actual statue that rises in Krakow’s main square—a statue where, every Christmas season, Polish celebrants leave their own handmade szopki.

Such transportive moments underscore the multifaceted appeal of the museum’s own yearly Christmas tradition: as a joyful expression of religious faith but also a keen expression of artistic and anthropological interest.

Christmas in Poland
Knights of Columbus Museum – 1 State St, New Haven
Daily 10am-5pm through 2/3/19
(203) 865-0400…

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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