•   Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Where does the nativity play come from?

What are nativity scenes and where did their tradition come from? It is a spectacle that represents the birth of Christ. The name comes from the old Polish word jasło, which means manger. However, the tradition of nativity scene, despite the old Polish word, does not come from Poland, because the nativity scene as a performance originates from Italy, and its beginning comes from the activity of St. Francis of Assisi.

The tradition of nativity scenes, i.e. shows showing the scene from the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, was initiated by St. Francis, who organized such a show for the first time in 1223 on the Greccio site in Italy. In our country, the first Christmas crib was organized at the court of St. Kinga, the wife of Bolesław the Chaste, at the end of the 13th century. Polish tradition dictates that the period of presenting the Nativity play should begin on the second day of Christmas, on the feast of St. Stephen. The great load of drama, the mystical atmosphere and the possibility to participate in the Christmas mystery made the Christmas Eve very popular. This folk art was very attractive, the selection and way of showing the characters who took part in the scene improved.

Next to the scene of Jesus' birth there were also agrarian elements such as ox, donkey and shepherding scenes. The characters of exotic kings, Herod, were introduced. The Biblical motifs were supplemented with new scenes, so that the nativity scene was very wide in the end. Devils, townspeople, knights, exotic merchant caravans, peasants working in fields, women at harvest were introduced to the scenes. The nativity scene was very close to the Polish population. Each nationality presenting a nativity play added its own scenes.

In Poland, the characters of national heroes, who were introduced to the nativity scene, were also very popular. Initially nativity scenes took place only in church buildings, but when the shows were more and more playful and their form was loose, they were exhibited in other places. The audience began to react indecently to them, so it even happened that in 1736 they were forbidden to exhibit them in the church. Since that date, there have only been cribs in churches. The nativity scene has moved to inns, shed, chambers, squares and streets in the city. From the clergy to the comedians. The place of living figures was also replaced by puppets, which could be voiced by carol singers, sometimes also by actors. The nativity scene set off on a journey and there were also performances in rich houses, noble manors and specially organized theatres.

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