Betlems in the Czech Republic-Bethlehems-Creches

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December 21st 2008
Published: December 22nd 2008
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Gingerbread BetlehemGingerbread BetlehemGingerbread Betlehem

This is the first one I saw. I grabbed my camera and never put it down until I was back on the street.

The Czechs call them Betlems, the French Creches and the Americans Manger Scenes

In 2005 when we were going to Prague in January people we met who had lived in Prague for a year on a Fulbright teacher exchange told us they were so sorry we were going to miss Christmas in Prague since we would not, in all likelihood, be seeing any of the famous Betlehems (The Czech spelling of Bethlehem) which are such a traditional part of the Czech Christmas scene. They explained that in the past each family would devote a room or a part of a room to a scene called a Betlehem which was what we were used to calling a manger scene or a creche. We did some looking around but never found any still on display in January. When we toured the newly opened Folk Museum at the end of Petrin Hill our second year in Prague, we were delighted to find they had a lovely and rather large Betlehem on display at the museum. Then in 2006 when I returned for the fall semester and my sister-in-law Dorothy came with her husband Glen to the seminary, she and I

took a day trip to Karlstein Castle. On the way back down the hill I noticed a sign which said, "Betlehem". We two decided we just had to see the museum of Betlehems and were really delighted with all the lovely examples of really old manger scenes which this museum had collected. They were displayed all over an old house from basement to attic. You can imagine our delight and surprise when we ended up in the dark attic wondering how we were supposed to see anything in this light when motion lights came on as we entered the room and a Betlehem which filled most of the attic 'came to life' with all the past kings of the Czech Republic and others of note moving on a special turntable to worship the new born Jesus who was there with Mary and Joseph and the rest of the characters in a regular manger scene. We watched the scene several times. I wished so much that Bill was with us to see all these lovely Christmas scenes but he was home in the USA.

One evening two weeks ago as Bill and I were doing our street wandering in the evening, we suddenly realized we were coming to the Betlehem Square in downtown Prague. We saw what could only be described as rather tacky paper angels hanging in a tree. They drew my attention to the area where they were located. We walked toward them and realized there was a gate leading to a rather fancy restaurant/club. We entered the area and saw a small sign stuck on the side of a door saying "Betlehems 50kc". We looked at each other and nodded 'Yes'. We entered the doorway and saw that to get to the Betlehems we had to go down a spiral staircase which was obviously quite ancient. The staircase led us down quite a long way. It was simply freezing cold outside and we had been about to the point of saying it was time to go home and warm up. When we got to the bottom of the stairs it was warm and lovely. The ticket desk lady was glad to admit us for the senior price of only 50kc. I took about two steps and realized this was a photo opportunity of the best sort. These Betlehems were even nicer in my eyes than the ones in the museum since most were of carved wood which I absolutely love. It took so long for us to go through the entire display since I stopped and took a photo of almost every one of the Betlehems. There was a man there who was a carver and I even got him to pose for me beside something he was creating. The violin/guitar maker had left his post by the time I got around to the area where he was located.

When we were ready to leave, we noticed they had paper Betlehems you could cut out and set up for yourself. One of them was so large and so lovely that we bought it. Now, if I can only get myself to go out shopping tomorrow and buy some styrofoam and some ice cream sticks and some cotton, I will have a nice time cutting ours out and putting it together. We later found another display of Betlehems and many of them were quite old and consisted of paper Betlehems. So, we will now have one for our very own.

I hope you enjoy seeing all the ways people have portrayed the manger
Wooden medallion-like BetlehemWooden medallion-like BetlehemWooden medallion-like Betlehem

Of course the wooden ones are my very favorites
scene in the photos I will add to the blog. But know that there are thousands of others that you can find if you are in the Czech Republic at Christmas time. If you come in the summer, Karlstein Castle is so very near Prague and takes only a 20 minute train ride from the city to visit. You can also go to the museum there and enjoy the authentic homemade ones from years and years ago which this museum has collected.

Additional photos below
Photos: 46, Displayed: 25


Betlehem in all its gloryBetlehem in all its glory
Betlehem in all its glory

I just loved this one, don't you?
Absolute beautyAbsolute beauty
Absolute beauty

I could scarcely believe the beauty of this scene.

Many depict those who are rejoicing at the birth of Jesus.
One of the carversOne of the carvers
One of the carvers

We did a little sign language routine and he smiled and got up from his work and let me make this photo. Hurrah for him and all carvers!
More straw-More straw-
More straw-

So simple and yet so evocative of the scene
Nutty BetlehemNutty Betlehem
Nutty Betlehem

Those little brown things aren't candy. They are some nuts.

Definitely ceramic. You can read the inscription.
Everyone animals and allEveryone animals and all
Everyone animals and all

Each layer has someone or some animal that has come to worship the baby Jesus.
Lovely caseLovely case
Lovely case

Mny of the Karlstein Museum's Betlehems were in glass cases for preserving them from year to year.
Yet anotherYet another
Yet another

Can you believe all the ways people have made these scenes?

31st October 2011

Been there too!!
Hi! My husband and I spent 15 years (after the Revolution) living and working in the Czech Republic. He is a Lutheran minister, so the Betlems immediately captured my attention as well. Other references to the real meaning of Christmas were highly discouraged under Communism, but these were allowed as part of Czech artistic culture. I have see n so many amazing ones and began to collect them - buying one or more in each village, museum, outdoor market, gift shop, etc. that I would find. I also bought them when we traveled to other countries on vacation. I have some wonderful wooden, ceramic, cornhusk, straw, paper and glass Betlems. I have been asked to display as many as I can for a Christmas stroll in Dec. in a town near where we live. When I have more time, I will send you photos of some of mine. I also have one printed on cardstock that requires construction and I have never gotten to it. I have the cookie cutters to make one of gingerbread which is so much fun - I will begin making a new one soon. Glad to have seen your article! PEGGY

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