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The prominent church feast of the Eucharist was established in 1246 and first celebrated in Belgium. It was introduced to Poland in 1320 by the Bishop of Cracow Nanker. It was always celebrated on Thursday, the eleventh day after the Descent of the Holy Spirit, between May 21st and June 23rd.
In smaller locations virtually the whole village or town becomes involved in an organised procession through the streets. Householders decorate their windows with religious icons. The traffic is stopped and at midday the procession leaves the Church and the people walk around the streets together stopping on route at various temporary shrines to pray. The shrines are decorated with branches from Birch trees, and members of the procession tear off twigs from these shrines for luck and happiness as they go around the circuit. Young girls dressed in their first communion dresses (which look like white wedding dresses) scatter rose and other flower petals on the streets. These petals are for Christ, who is believed by Catholics to walk the streets with the people during these Corpus Christi processions. Throughout the festival the Priest walks around under some sort of umbrella held up by four or more men from the village or town, while boys swirl burning incense around him.
The main Corpus Christi procession in Warsaw starting from St John’s Cathedral in Old town and going along the Royal Route is still, in accordance with tradition, led by Primate of Poland.
In Cracow the Lajkonik festival is continued to be held every year in the octave of Corpus Christi. When the church festivities are over , a parade of characters in colorful clothes, carrying a banner of the raftsmen’s guild, goes from Zwierzyniec to the Old Market Square. The most outstanding of them pretends to ride a horse constructed of a wooden head and a frame covered with cloth. He is dressed in oriental clothes and holds a ball of rags in his hand, with which he jokingly hits the spectators, trying to take the more beautiful girls captive.
Legend has it that the event was to commemorate the tartar invasion of Cracow and the heroic defense of the town by the raftsmen’s guild. The legend also says a trumpeter saw the enemy in time and started to play the bugle calling the citizens to shut the town gates. While playing it he was killed by a tartar arrow which struck his throat. In memory of that incident , the bugle call is played several times a day to all directions of the world and it is suddenly broken in the middle of the tune.
The annual Lajkonik show attracts throng of spectators to Cracow Market Square.
This year Boże Ciało is on June 23rd. Most of the people take Friday after it off to have nice 4 day long weekend. Remember about it while planning your stay in Poland. One year we flew to Poland with my husband on Wednesday before Corpus Christi. Usually it takes us 2 hours from the Warsaw airport to my parents house. Last year it took us almost 4 hours…I totally forgot that everyone will be leaving Warsaw that Wednesday.
Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)