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Cracow. Lajkonik March 2023. Konik Zwierzyniecki hits the inhabitants with a mace for good luck

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He hits with a baton for luck, dances and collects tribute from the mayor of the city – this is how this year’s Lajkonik parade looks like, a local tradition related to saving Krakow from the Tartar invasion. The Tartar mace was first held by Mariusz Glonek, whose father, Zbigniew, played Konik Zwierzyniecki for 35 years. I’ve been training since February. Stage fright is very big – admitted the younger Glonek at the beginning of the march.

On Thursday, the traditional Lajkonik parade takes place in Krakow. According to the centuries-old local tradition, a rider on a white horse, dressed in Tatar costume and surrounded by a noisy retinue, traveled the route from Zwierzyniec to the Main Market Square.

Mariusz Glonek became Lajkonik for the first time. “I’ve been practicing since February”

This year, Mariusz Glonek played the main role for the first time. He is the son of Zbigniew Glonek, who resigned from the role of Lajkonik after 35 years of playing it.

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Lajkonik parade in KrakowPAP/Łukasz Gągulski

Added to this is 17 years when Mr. Zbigniew accompanied “Konik Zwierzyniecki” as a yarn, which gives him a total of 52 years of participating in this ritual.

The successor – like his father – is a long-time employee of the Krakow waterworks. He was selected for the role in October last year by unanimous decision of the entire entourage. As Mariusz Glonek confessed to PAP before setting off in the procession, the debut as Lajkonik is accompanied by a lot of stage fright and stress.

I’ve been training since February. The stage fright is very big – confessed the Lajkonik performer.

Lajkonik parade in KrakowPAP/Łukasz Gągulski

He hits with a mace for good luck

The Lajkonik Parade is one of the oldest and most beautiful traditions of the city, which has been attracting crowds of spectators for several centuries. Every year, in the octave of Corpus Christi, a colorful retinue of yarns (the former name of raftsmen) and Tatars, led by a rider on an artificial horse, travels the city streets to the rhythm of Krakow melodies. The main character wears an outfit weighing over 30 kilograms, which was designed by Stanisław Wyspiański in 1904.

The ceremony lasts nine hours. The Lajkonik, accompanied by a retinue of thirty yarns and a band, travels the streets of the city center to the Main Square, visiting shops, cafes and restaurants along the way, demanding protection money. Those who get in its way offer their arms to be struck with a mace, because according to tradition, being touched by a mace guarantees good luck for at least a year.

During his journey, Lajkonik makes a solemn circle three times and performs a flag dance: at the Premonstratensian nuns, at the intersection in front of the Krakow Philharmonic and in front of the Town Hall Tower on the Main Market Square.

In the evening, in front of the Town Hall Tower, the culmination of the ceremony will take place – the rider will collect protection money in a large purse from the city authorities. Together with the mayor of the city, he will raise a toast to the prosperity of Cracovians and perform a dance called Urbem salutare – Adoration to the city. The spectacle will end with the final parade around the Main Square.

Lajkonik parade in KrakowPAP/Łukasz Gągulski

The history of Lajkonik’s marches

According to a well-known legend, the beginnings of the Lajkonik tradition are related to the saving of Krakow from the Tatar invasion, which was supposed to be done by brave Vistula rafters from the vicinity of Zwierzyniec, called włowka. The preserved historical sources allow us to conclude that Lajkonik’s frolics accompanied by the retinue must have been held at least since the mid-18th century.

According to the Museum of Krakow, from that period, despite the huge political, social and civilizational changes, the procession of Lajkonik, also known as Konik Zwierzyniecki, took place almost every year at the same time (the period of the Corpus Christi octave) and followed the same route: from Zwierzyniec to the Old Town. In the described period, there were breaks in the procession organization for several years (among others, during the Second World War), but the intergenerational transmission between successive generations that cared for the survival of this tradition was never interrupted.

Lajkonik parade in KrakowPAP/Łukasz Gągulski

In recent years, in the first year of the pandemic, the procession did not go to the streets of Krakow, but Lajkonik himself presented his frolics on the Internet, and in the next year – Lajkonik and his companions covered the route of their procession in a unique way – sailing the Vistula river in boats.

In 2014, the Lajkonik parade was entered into the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This entry is the basis for this Krakow tradition to be included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which includes customs, traditions and rituals from around the world.

Main photo source: PAP/Łukasz Gągulski

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