The Lajkonik, or Historical Revelries on Krakow's Main Square

Lajkonik holds a prominent position in the local folklore and festivities of Kraków, Poland. This traditional character is widely recognized for his unique appearance and vibrant clothing. Typically depicted as a bearded individual donning the attire of a Tatar warrior, Lajkonik wears a feather-adorned pointed hat and carries a wooden horse attached to his waist.

If we ask Poles about associations with Krakow, among many positive and pride-filled ones, we will certainly find the Wawel Dragon, Polish kings, landmarks, pigeons, and a certain Lajkonik. Many people associate this bearded figure with certain food products or a bakery chain, but far fewer realize that he is definitely more than just a costumed performer trying to be a tourist attraction. In fact, it's not even a single person but a tradition and a legend. So let's dance with Lajkonik and find out who he is and where he came from in the city of kings.


Author: Kpalion |

What does Lajkonik have in common with a toy horse and a doll?

First, it is worth understanding the origin of the somewhat exotic word "lajkonik." What could it possibly mean? There are several theories, and we will attempt to explore them.

The word "lajkonik" first appeared in 1866 in a text by archaeologist Józef Łepkowski. According to some researchers, the origins of the word "lajkonik" can be traced back to the German language, from which the first part of our word, "laj," is believed to have derived. This "laj" would come from the German word "Lauf," which, in turn, is associated with the term "Leibpferd," connected to the figure of the so-called "Leichkonik," a Silesian variation of the name (“König” means a king in German).

Supporting a different interpretation was the distinguished Polish ethnographer Oskar Kolberg, who derived "lajkonik" from the combination of the words "lalka" (doll) and "konik" (horse), resulting in "lalkonik," alluding to the puppet-like nature of the character.

There are also analyses related to the word "lej," meaning "to strike, hit" with an implied reference to a Tatar warrior. Here, we find direct connections to the legend of Lajkonik. Additionally, interpretations involving words like "hulaj," indicating a festive character, can be encountered. Regardless of which interpretation we accept, one thing is certain - for nearly two hundred years, Lajkonik has been entertaining the people of Kraków during the Corpus Christi parade, and it appears that the coming decades will be equally favorable to him, as his processions will not lose momentum or festive grandeur.

The Legend

According to the most popular tale, the origin of the Lajkonik procession dates back to the 13th century when the Tatars invaded Lesser Poland and targeted the prosperous city of Kraków. Fate would have it that they arrived at the city on the day of Corpus Christi. The townspeople learned about this during the religious procession but instead of panicking, they were inspired by one of the raftsmen, responsible for floating timber to nearby salt mines. With devout hymns on their lips, they rallied against the enemy. Caught off guard by this turn of events, the Tatars fell victim to the fury of the townspeople, and a significant number of them perished at the feet of the victorious citizens. Among them was said to be the commander of the ill-fated horde. It was in his splendid garments that the leader of the townspeople was dressed, and in a solemn procession, he was led back to Kraków. In commemoration of this victory, the tradition of annually dressing one of the raftsmen in Tatar attire and conducting the ceremonial march of Lajkonik through the city was born.

Legends vs. Science

Legends are legends, but scholars approach such revelations with a hint of skepticism. An interesting theory was proposed by Oskar Kolberg, mentioned earlier, who traced the roots of the ceremonial processions with the horse back to pagan times.

There are also mentions of commemorating a Moravian victory over the Tatars in the early 13th century and the grand celebrations associated with it, as well as the influence of medieval processions during Palm Sunday.

Another theory suggests a nineteenth-century preparation of the ritual and something that could be described as a PR maneuver by the city's magistracy. Although devoid of a romantic backdrop, this theory appears remarkably intriguing from the perspective of contemporary marketing and the principles of conscious image creation by the authorities of the city of Kraków.

As it used to be...

According to historical sources, the first processions in celebration of Corpus Christi, which we could consider as precursors to the Lajkonik revelries, were organized by the raftsmen of Zwierzyniec. Together with the Norbertine sisters in the Church of the Most Holy Savior, they joyously celebrated the June festivities. The oldest mention of such processions dates back to June 13, 1700. Thirty-eight years later, someone appeared in the procession who we can cautiously recognize as the forerunner of Lajkonik. Interestingly, information about this character emerges incidentally in relation to a brawl that occurred among the participants of the procession. Thus, Lajkonik entered the stage of history with a truly festive stride.

The subsequent fate of the procession was somewhat turbulent, and the revelries themselves, as often happens, sometimes escaped the control of the organizers. Towards the end of the 18th century, the church authorities even banned the tomfoolery and masquerades during the Corpus Christi processions, and the horse itself, along with the retinue, was no longer allowed access to the Kraków Market Square.

The situation underwent liberalization in the second half of the 19th century when the funding of the festivities was taken up by the municipal authorities, and the organization itself was handled by the Miciński family, who, quite interestingly, traced their ancestry back to the descendants of the raftsmen. By the end of the 19th century, the city authorities entrusted the newly established Society of Lovers of History and Monuments of Kraków with coordinating cooperation with the Miciński family in organizing the parade. It was during this time that the composition of the group took shape, with musicians, a standard-bearer, and members of the escort joining Lajkonik himself. From then on, the parade began to gain momentum and attracted an increasing number of spectators each year.

Dance with Lajkonik, dance!

The Lajkonik parade is an extraordinary experience that captures the historical spirit of the royal city. In our humble opinion, it is an event that must be experienced at least once in a lifetime. We encourage you to visit Kraków in June. While every other month in Kraków is equally beautiful, we particularly recommend witnessing the incredible parade led by Lajkonik with your own eyes. And since you will already be in our city, we warmly invite you to take tours that will introduce you to the history of Kraków and help you better understand the uniqueness of the place you have come to see. Who knows, maybe you will encounter Lajkonik himself during one of them?

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