Lajkonik Festival: guide to celebrating folklore in Krakow, Poland

Krakow, Poland. 'Kościół Mariacki w Krakowie' by Klearchos KapoutsisCreative Commons Attribution

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Location: Rynek Glówny, Krakow, Poland

Date: Thursday after Corpus Christi. 6 June 2013; 26 June 2014; 11 June 2015.

Level of participation: 1 - watch Lajkonik do the legwork

According to Polish legend, when the head of Krakow’s defensive raftsmen defeated a Tatar marauder in the 13th century, he slipped into the Mongolian’s robes and triumphantly rode into the city.

The folkloric myth has been celebrated for more than 200 years with the procession of ‘Lajkonik’ through the Gothic city. Clad in Mongol robes, the fairytale figure rides a hobbyhorse topped with peacock feathers, accompanied by the Mlaskoty musical troupe. The pageant proceeds from the Premonstratensian Convent in the suburb of Zwierzyniec to the main square, where the mayor greets Lajkonik and presents him with a symbolic ransom and a goblet of wine. En route, the energetic larrikin dances, jumps, greets passers-by, pops into cafés, collects donations and strikes people with his mace (it’s said to bring good luck).

Another bizarre tradition, the abruptly ending hejnał trumpet call from a church tower in Rynek Glówny, commemorates the trumpeter who received a Tatar arrow to the throat as he tried to warn medieval Krakow of the approaching threat.

Local attractions: with its basement bars, Krakow’s nightlife is like Prague’s with fewer stag parties. If you prefer to swot up on Lajkonik, head to the Historical Museum to see the hobbyhorse that was used in the early 20th century. Covered in leather, caparison, nearly a thousand pearls, and coral beads, it weighs about 40kg.

More info: www.krakow.pl

See other top festivals in June here.

This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.

This article was first published in December 2010 and was refreshed in April 2013.