Once a year, on the Thursday following Corpus Christi, crowds gather in the courtyard of the Premonstratensian Convent. Everyone is waiting for the main hero of the day – Lajkonik, or the hobby horse of Kraków – who begins his annual cavorting there. He is a man disguised as a Mongol (Tartar) chieftain, riding a horse (in its present form, the costume was designed by Stanisław Wyspiański) together with his accompanying band of mlaskoty who make noise and music. Lajkonik proceeds along Kościuszki, Zwierzyniecka, Franciszkańska, and Grodzka streets, to reach eventually the Main Market Square. There, the city authorities present him with a symbolic ransom, and Lajkonik drinks a toast to the success of Kraków.

The tradition makes reference to the legend that says that the włóczkowie – raftsmen of Zwierzyniec who floated logs down the Vistula – saved Kraków from destruction, and its residents from death, by fending off a Tartar attack. Having won their victory, they played a practical joke on the people of Kraków, disguising themselves in Tartar clothes, blackening their faces with soot, and galloping into the city on the captured horses, pretending to be a detachment of the invading army. Once the joke became known, the thankful townsfolk gave a great feast to honour the raftsmen.

Frolicking and gambolling in the horse-and-man costume, Lajkonik distributes delicate punches to passers-by with his mace. You cannot run away from them, as being hit brings luck for the whole of the coming year.

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