The Slovenia Times

The Art of Handcrafted Christmas Crib



From the 15th of December until the 2nd of February, the Zlicarjev home (Pod Vrbco 24, Sentjur pri Celju) will again welcome people from near and far who have come to admire their masterfully handcrafted wooden nativity scene spread over 100 square meters of their farmhouse. Whatever nativity scenes you've seen thus far, this one will definitely stay in your memory because of its enticing charm and, above all, for the astonishing effort and love invested into perfecting it. It is well worth the drive to Sentjur; once you reach the town, follow the well-marked road up to their home. No prior arrangement is necessary for you to visit, but it's best to come during the daytime, up until 9pm. As several tourist buses are expected from Slovenia, Austria and Croatia, you may have to park further down the road, but some parking space nearby will always be available. The Zlicarjev handcrafted wooden nativity scene greatly surpasses the standard installations you can see at Slovenian churches; theirs is a stunningly arranged fairyland with more than 95 intricately fretted and beautifully painted wooden houses, chapels with painted altars inside, crosses, sawmills that are actually moving and other village buildings all scattered around little green hills and valleys with runnings streams and lakes. The 80-year-old carpenter Bernard and his son Janko created their first nativity scene in their old farmhouse over a decade ago. It instantly attracted numerous neighbours and relatives, who gave them lots of praise and encouragement to continue on a greater scale. Every subsequent year, their nativity scene attracted more visitors, so they decided to move the installation into the adjacent empty house and spread it over several rooms with Christmas songs being quietly played in the background. "Electricity and water, now these two things are very difficult and dangerous to put together. We've used around 700 Christmas lights and we had to be very careful about where we placed them and how we hid the cables. It may look like an easy thing to do, but the installation involved lots of hard work at very low temperatures, in the middle of the night. I had to gather and arrange 2 square metres of rocks, spread the soft soil over them and humidify it in order to make the three tractor trailers of moss last longer. Finding such a large amount of moss is very time-consuming. Water is constantly circulated by several pumps, which connect the little streams with the lakes. We don't heat the house - though it gets quite warm in here when a large group of people are inside - so as to preserve the moss and keep it from spoiling too quickly," says Janko Zlicar, who is determined to continue his father's tradition. One room has a rock waterfall more than a metre high (modelled after the Savica waterfall) that continues into a little stream and ends in a big lake. The beautifully arranged green landscape extends through several rooms with different places displayed in each, with little figurines doing farmwork or taking care of the Baby Jesus. One room shows a miniature version of the town of Sentjur with all the prominent houses and the church, another shows the sacred town of Bethlehem with a majestically crafted castle and a shed with the nativity scene. It is admirable that the Zlicars still refuse to charge an entrance fee to their many visitors (up to 2000 people), though a basket for voluntary contributions is placed at the door to help them out with the electricity costs. "It took us two months to prepare the nativity scene because there's only the two of us, and we are not that young anymore. I've been a carpenter all my life; I've repaired many rooftops, church belfries, furniture items and so on. I started making Christmas cribs when I was a child, and I have perfected the hobby over the years. I don't draw up any plans for the miniature houses, I just have a look at the house I want to use as a model, and I do it. It takes a lot of patience, willpower and skilled fingers to do such things, but luckily my hands and health are still serving me well. We like to see people coming here to admire our nativity scene; it makes us happy to watch them gaze wondrously at it. We do have a lot of costs involved with the whole thing, but we feel we cannot charge an entrance fee, we just don't think it's fair. People come here with such goodwill, they chat with us, they sing us Christmas carols - this is what brings joy to us, not their money. We are glad people hear about Sentjur and our country in foreign places because of our nativity scene. Our mayor seems to be pleased too - he gave us an award for our contribution to the tourist development of Sentjur," says the constantly smiling and lively 80-year-old as he points to the framed award.


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