Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 19, 2005
Polish students craft szopkas - nativity scenes
Pupils draw from their heritage to honour Christmas
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Using candies, gingerbread, sunflower seeds, raisins, pretzels and other easy-to-find materials, student Julie Rudolf created a charming and colourful szopka, a Polish-style nativity scene that earned her a first prize at a recent school crŠche competition.
Julie's ornate structure with castle-like spires and a nativity scene inside was inspired by the architectural marvels of the Polish city Krakow, where crŠche making is a longstanding tradition.
"I used candies for my szopka because part of the Christmas season is making gingerbread houses," the excited 13-year-old said. "It's fun to make a szopka."
Marysia Wojcik, 13, also won a first prize as did Magdalena Koziak.
Magdalena crafted an elaborate two-level fortress-like wooden structure made from Popsicle sticks. It features a nativity scene on the second level.
"I did it because it is fun and also because it is a tradition and I take pride in it," Magdalena said. "I want to continue the tradition."
Julie and Magdalena were among nine Grade 8 students from the Polish Language School that have been learning how to make crŠches according to the Krakow tradition. On Dec. 10 they all brought their szopkas to class to be judged by a panel of judges from the school, which is held Saturday mornings at Austin O'Brien High.
Teacher Renata Romanek was proud of the group, saying all of them deserved some kind of prize. She has been teaching Polish teens how to make mangers for 13 years, since she came to Canada from her native Krakow and began teaching Polish at the school.
Pass on the tradition
Although she never made an szopka herself, she thought it was important to pass on the tradition, one that goes back to before the Second World War.
Proud of their city's medieval architecture, people make replicas of old churches, castles and fortresses and then display them in the old market square the first Thursday of December.
The successful entries are awarded prizes and displayed in the Historical Museum throughout the holiday season.
Polish language students learn about the Krakow tradition from Romanek and from several Polish sites on the Internet. They are encouraged to involve their families in every step of the project.
Even though passing on the tradition is important, that's not Romanek's only objective.
"I also want to make my students aware of the importance of Jesus' birth," she said. "We want to celebrate the fact that he was born." Every project - be it a castle, a church or a fortress - must include a nativity scene.
Students treasure their crŠches, which often become the centrepiece of the celebration of Christmas at each of their homes, noted Romanek.
"Students never forget this and they always remember the time when they were making the szopka. They are very proud of this and they really enjoy it."
Nourish the roots
And what does Romanek get out of this? "I am kind of happy and proud that they are learning about the roots of their parents, about the culture and the customs," she said modestly. "I'm just a teacher, you know, I'm just doing my job."
Using items such as juice boxes, coloured paper, stickers and glue, student Adam Makarewicz created a colourful castle-like crŠche to honour Christ the King.
It took him two hours a day for a full week to complete it but he thinks it was worth it.
"I think it looks pretty good, I'm very proud of it," he said. "I going to give it to my church, Holy Rosary Church."