The Chrismas Archives


Here you can see a selection of the different types of Folk Cribs from around the world, which are part of the Crib Collection of the English Speaking Society of Nativitists.


In the 18th century, there arose a craft for cutout cribs. These originated as paper cribs which were made by the local house painters, who, in winter months with little to do, occupied themselves painting simple sets of crib figures to give to their customers at Christmas, with the obvious message of, 'Remember us in the Spring when your house needs re-painting'! These were popular, and soon, the originals were being reproduced on paper sheets for people to cut out and make into a Nativity Grotto. Some of these were of excellent quality. many eventually found their way to America, and were used as 'PUTZ' figures by the Pennsylvanian Moravian Church communities for their communal Putz.

Another Austrian speciality were the 'ZINNENFIGUREN'. These were peculiar to Nurnberg, and were figures cut from tin, and painted. They represented many figures including Nativity.


In the Erzgebirg, the woodturners of Seiffen and wood carvers of Schneeberg and Sonneberg began to make small wooden figures to put into their Pyramid Cribs and the Spinne. The Spinne was a wooden chandelier, which had figures along its arms, and the whole thing was then decorated with strings of tiny glass beads. the effect in the candlelight was that of a frosted spiders web, hence the name. Pyramids are wooded tiered objects like an open-sided windmill. Candles create heat to move the sails around, and inside the open frets are groups of Nativity figures. Many 18th and 19th century examples of these are to be seen at the Seiffen Museum and factory and in the Folk Museum in Dresden


In Spain there is still today a street below the great cathedral church of St. James of Compostella in Santiago de Compostella, which is a street of cribmakers who make cribs from Jet. A difficult and expensive craft, as carving jet can result in splitting and cracking. Spain also compares with the main group of countries like Italy and Germany for carved cribs.


Poland has a very special craft - the Szopke. This is a crib scene set into the open doors of a model of the Wawel Cathedral, the church of Krakow. These began centuries ago as travelling Nativity puppet theatres, which were carried on the puppeteers back from town to town, proclaiming the Birth of Jesus by the performances. They were also carried around by Starboys, carollers who carried also a large star lantern in honour of the Magi following the Star to Bethlehem. This custom more or less died earlier this century to be revived in 1947 by the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow, as a bi-annual competition. Szopke-makers come from all over Poland with their cribs which can be as small to fit in the palm of your hand, or huge monuments over 6' tall. They have lights, mechanics, music or simply excellent. There are two main features which are always observed. The structures must all follow the architectural lines of the Wawle Cathedral; and they are almost all covered in coloured foils.

These are brought to the Main Square on the appointed day, and the best are taken by the Museum for posterity. The others are sold in a grand Christmas Market.


One of the great Italian artist groups are the Lepi family in the Italian Tyrol

Eastern Europe following the Orthodox religion tend to have Icons rather than solid figures. But new out of Russia and Hungary are coming beautiful folk carvings. Many of these are being exported to America (see CRECHE HERALD). Orthodoxy has in history always disapproved of figures, and the old Nativity art in Greece and Russia and other countries is as wonderful Icons.