The Lajkonik Parade
The Lajkonik (a person dressed as a Tatar riding a hobbyhorse), formerly known as the Zwierzyniec Horse, appears on one day of the year on the streets of Kraków together with its whole entourage and the Mlaskot band (which owes its name to the shrill sound of the music it plays), on the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi. At noon he sets off from the Norbertine convent, and then interacts with passers-by and touches spectators with his mace. This is supposed to bring health and prosperity to those who have been touched.
In the afternoon, he arrives at the Main Market Square and, after having danced near the Town Hall Tower with a standard-bearer (who waves around a large red standard with a white eagle and the coat of arms of Kraków), the Lajkonik collects a symbolic tribute from the municipal authorities and drinks a cup of wine for the welfare of the city and its inhabitants (see “The Lajkonik is offered a treat in front of the Town Hall“).
This custom is connected with the participation in processions of the Feast of Corpus Christi of the Zwierzyniec congregation of rafters who float timber along the Vistula River. It has been associated with the legend, which tells how the rafters repelled an attack of Tatars near Kraków, and how the bravest of them entered the city ceremonially on horseback, dressed in a trophy Tatar costume.
This tradition is maintained to this day, though the former rafters have been replaced by the workers of the Municipal Water Supply Company, and the costumes of the attendants of the procession and the band have changed over the years, designed by artists. For example, since the 1950s, both the rafters and the Mlaskot band have used costumes designed by Witold Chomicz (a professor of the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts, and a lover of folklore and the traditions of the Zwierzyniec borough of Kraków). The costumes have been refreshed by Krystyna Zachwatowicz since 1997.
However, the costume of the Lajkonik has remained unchanged since 1904, when it was designed by Stanisław Wyspiański.
Elaborated by Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved
Toy “Lajkonik's march” by Jan Oprocha (father)