With sorcerers flying around the city on oversized cockerels, maiden-eating dragons and enchanted pigeons the talk of Krakow’s folklore, Poland’s second city clearly loves its legends.
This month, one of the most colorful of them all comes to life, energizing the whole city as people come together to celebrate victory in an ancient battle against Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes – the Lajkonik Festival
The focal point of the Lajkonik parade is a mysterious, almost freakish-looking figure on horseback. With his shimmering oriental-style clothes, colorful wizard’s hat, and big bushy beard, our horseback rider looks like a fugitive circus clown, galloping into the old market square to meet the city’s mayor.
While parading through the city on his way to see the mayor, our eccentric horse rider will playfully hit anyone who gets in his way with a mace – supposed to be good luck if you are fortunate enough! – all the while stopping off at stores for free food and liquor handouts.
That our mysterious rider may well be wasted by the time he reaches the mayor doesn’t seem to bother anyone in the slightest, least of all his band of merry musicians, following in his wake and helping to procure those drinks.
But where on Earth does this freaky fellow come from?
Surprisingly enough, considering the Lajkonik is the symbol of Krakow, nobody is quite sure, though the best story goes something like this…
…It was in medieval times, back in the days when Genghis Khan and his Mongol Marauders were Europe’s biggest bad guys that the Lajkonik arose. During those dark ages, Krakow was sacked numerous times by the hordes of invaders, but they didn’t get their way every time…
One summer, as the Mongols prepared for yet another raid on the city, a group of brave raftsmen received word from local villagers about the impending attack. But rather than flee, the gallant raftsmen set off to find the Mongol camp deep in the forest.
Upon locating the camp, our heroes waited until dark before launching a swift, vicious attack on the invaders, banishing them into the night and saving the city from disaster.
The raftsmen returned to the city, laden with the spoils of war, while their valiant leader paraded through the city streets dressed up in the rich garb of the Mongol’s leader. The heroes encountered a rapturous welcome from the cityfolk of Krakow, who were only too happy to heap upon them mountains of food and alcohol as a reward for their deeds.
Thus, the Lajkonik street party was born, and for centuries the crazy victory parade has been re-enacted with glee.
The parade commences, as always, in the month of June, following the Corpus Christi feast. Beginning at the Norbertine Convent, the crazy procession of Lajkonik and his followers continues, prancing and dancing through the city, ending up at Krakow’s market square at the Franciszkanska and Kosciuszki Zwierzyniecka intersection.
Finally, the Lajkonik meets up with the city mayor to mark the end of the parade, and with it one more toast – to cheer the saviors of Krakow one more time!