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Traditional Festivals in Krakow  

Hardly a month passes in Krakow without some time-honored occasion for common festivities or colorful celebration. The following are just most popular ones.
/see also: culture festivals, folk traditions/


Christmas Eve’s night begins with Christmas supper, a family feast of 7-12 special dishes – no red meat and at least one course of carp – followed by presents unwrapping and carols singing, and it ends with popular ‘pasterka’, i.e. the midnight "Shepherds’ Mass", in a favorite Krakow church (or simply the nearest one). Christmas and notably the following holiday on December 26 are traditionally occasions in Poland for visiting friends and relatives. In the ensuing holiday season also popular are such family pastimes as nativity plays, nativity puppet shows, seeing elaborate Christmas cribs (nativity scenes) in various Krakow churches and the museum display of the best examples of famous Krakow cribs built over the last year. 

Note: Krakow's traditional Christmas Market usually takes place on the central Rynek Glowny square from the end of November to Christmas Eve.  

Christmas in Krakow

New Year merrymaking is a must worldwide but on that night Krakow’s entire Old Town historical district turns into one giant ballroom. Tens of thousands of revelers swarm its huge Grand Square with the adjacent streets in frenzied rejoicing and pack into the area’s countless clubs, cafes and restaurants. Such is the beginning of Krakow’s long carnival season which ends with the Shrove Tuesday frolics weeks later. 

Fat Thursday, the last one before the Ash Wednesday, is a festival of overeating when every Krakow dweller devours the Fat Thursday's specials: ‘favorki’ crunch cakes and the Polish doughnuts (balls with rose-petals jam filling) which are a must-eat treat on that day.
Shrovetide (Polish ‘Ostatki’ or ‘Zapusty’) crowns Krakow’s two-month carnival season. The Shrove Tuesday’s ‘sledziowka’ festivities traditionally last till dawn on the Ash Wednesday and they end with the Lent meal of herring after which repentant revelers go straight to the church to have their foreheads strewn with ash.

Krakoiw's entertainment

Lent’s 40 days are marked by profusion of special services and ceremonies in beautiful Krakow churches, culminating over the Holy Week, notably in the Good Friday’ mournful rituals. Most striking is the hooded procession of the 400-year-old Archfraternity of the Lord’s Passion, known also as the Brothers of Good Death, held every Friday throughout the Lent at the 13th-century Franciscan church in the very heart of the city. 

Easter festival spreads over four days in Krakow. On the Holy Saturday everybody visits the parish church with a basket of the traditional Easter foodstuff – bread, eggs, ham, sausages, and a piece of horseradish – to have them consecrated by priest, and to see ‘the grave of the Lord Jesus’ arranged in a chapel or a crypt. Easter Sunday traditionally remains quiet and confined to the family and the church. Yet Easter Monday is devoted to socializing, the centuries-old Emaus fiesta being the chief venue. Plus Poland’s tradition is splashing water over one another on the Easter Monday; teenagers do it with zest and by bucketful. Another Krakow’s time-honored fair, called ‘Rekawka’, takes place on Tuesday after Easter.

Emaus fiesta of Krakow
Great Emaus fiesta on the Easter Monday has been Krakow's tradition for centuries.

All Fools’ Day on April 1 or ‘prima aprilis’ is universally observed in Poland: expect endless pranks, jests, and innocent lies. 

May 3rd is Poland’s national holiday – Constitution Day. There are patriotic demonstrations as well as fairs and picnics. 

Saint Stanislaw’s Procession on the first Sunday after May 8 gathers Poland’s cardinals and bishops, an array of celebrities, and huge crowds of the faithful, who follow the relics of the country’s patron saints from the Wawel Cathedral to the Skalka sanctuary

Juwenalia is a colorful festival of Krakow students who take over the streets and squares of the city’s Old Town historical district for a week in May and, sporting funny disguises, indulge in wild merrymaking. (Look the date and details up in the site’s Events section.) 

Corpus Christi procession from the Wawel Cathedral to Krakow’s central Grand Square gathers vast crowds of the faithful, led by Krakow archbishop, as Our Lord’s statue is carried to four street altars among a shower of flower petals. 

Lajkonik Parade on the first Thursday after the Corpus Christi feast proceeds for about six hours from the Zwierzyniec Premonstratensian convent of St Norbert to the central Grand Square, accompanied by loud and high-pitched music. The pageant's actors sport either Krakow folk costumes or fancy oriental attire. Lajkonik is their leader – bearded fellow in a Tartar disguise rides a wooden horse and prance joyfully around. 

Krakow's Lajkonik parade
Lajkonik joyful parade

Enthronement of the Cock King takes place on Krakow’s central Grand Square in June, at noon, after a colorful parade of the Cock Fraternity clad in the 17th-century Polish costumes. The Cock Fraternity is a shooting association dating from the Middle Ages, and the Cock King is the winner of its yearly shooting contest. (Look the date up in the site’s Events section.) 

Garlands (‘Wianki’) midsummer festival is the Krakow variant of Poland’s traditional all-night merrymaking by bonfires on St. John’s Day, June 24. In Krakow it has always started with girls floating wreaths of flowers and magic herbs with lit candles down the Vistula (Wisla) river. Since the 19th century the ancient custom has turned into a popular fiesta and a show with musical acts and fireworks display upon the riverbank opposite the Royal Wawel Castle (now on Saturday nearest to June 24). Recently, a number of alfresco concerts are taking place in the city's squares on that day as well.

Krakow's Wianki festival
Girl-floated wreaths on St John's night, Krakow's folk tradition.

Summer Krakow frenzy of cultural events is largely aimed at cosmopolitan crowd of visitors swarming the city while its natives vacation on beaches or in the countryside. Highlights include the Jewish Culture Festival, the Street Theater Festival, the ‘Music in Old Krakow’ Festival, and the Krakow Jazz Festival. (Please look up the dates in our Krakow Events section.)

The Krakow folk fair and festival features Poland’s traditional countryside entertainers alongside stands selling the wares of village artisans on Krakow’s central Grand Square in August.


Krakow's August folk festival
Folk festival on the central square.

Andrzejki universal partying on the night of St Andrew’s Day, November 30, has folk origin reminded by fortune-telling from shapes that melted wax takes when poured into water – in a break in dancing. 

All Saints’ Day, November 1 (as well as, to a lesser degree, All Souls’ Day, November 2) is spent in Poland on visiting cemeteries and commuting between them. Everybody prays at graves, decked with fresh flowers for the occasion, of the deceased relatives, and lights candles. 

‘Mikolaj’ on St Nicholas’ Day, December 6, has been always the date when children in Poland expected Santa Clause bringing gifts. Except nowadays Santa usually bothers again on the Christmas Eve

Newly built famed Krakow Christmas cribs (ornate nativity scenes) – tens of them, from tiny to giant – can be admired on the Old Town's central Rynek Glowny square before noon on the first Thursday of December. Successful entries for the yearly Krakow Crib Contest are on display in the nearby City of Krakow Historical Museum, 35 Rynek Glowny at Szczepanska street, till early February. 

guide to Christmas Krakow Krakow Christmas guide

Krakow Christmas crib
Krakow cribs merit their fame.

Poland's national holidays are the New Year Day, January 6 (Epiphany), Easter Sunday and Monday, May 1 (Labor Day), May 3 (Constitution Day), Corpus Christi Feast, August 15, November 1 (All Saints Day), November 11 (Independence Day, December 25 and December 26 (Christmas).

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