The best way to find out what is going on in Krakow during your stay is to check in with the Krakow Festival Bureau or grab a copy of the Karnet magazine. (For those of you with an Instagram or Facebook, I suggest following the accounts for both those offices, among others, to get a feel for the events coming up). Below are just some of our favorites holidays, festivals, and traditions, that occur throughout the year. Rick Steves also gives a short list of public holidays in Poland on his website.
Name Days: In Poland, there are only so many names you are allowed to name your child. Because of this, literally every Polish person has a Name Day. Think of it like a birthday, but you don’t have to think about getting older, where you throw a big party and people bring you presents. Some Name Days have specific traditions, for example, Sylvester is on New Year’s Eve, so instead of posters saying NYE Party!!! They say Sylvester!!!
New Year’s Eve: In Krakow on New Year’s Eve there is a huge concert in the main square, put on by the city for free! You will also find everyone, even in residential neighborhoods, setting off fireworks (which is completely legal!). Party all night, drink vodka, and stay out until 10am if it suits you.
Marzanna says Goodbye to Winter: On the first day of spring, all the school children of Krakow take dolls they have made from hay or corn-stalks, and throw them down the river, sometimes even lighting them on fire. These Marzanna dolls, were born from a Pagan tradition, and its quite suprising that they live on in such a Catholic nation. But either way, Marzanna is sacrificed to end the winter, and welcome the spring.
Palm Sunday and the Easter Markets: On Palm Sunday you can head to the Main Square to see a competition of “palms” beautiful handmade poles filled with color and vibrance; as well as, traditional song and dance all day long. This is also the start of the Easter Market in the square, so take some time to shop around for goodies! There are even more markets and celebrations in the days following Easter.
Good Friday, Easter Saturday, and Easter Sunday: Easter is very important to Poles, and quite a long celebration. Traditionally families dye their Easter Eggs on Friday, and begin to assemble their baskets, which will then be taken to the church on Saturday to be blessed by the priest. The items in the basket are very different than other countries, usually nothing sweet, except a little cake or sugar-lamb. The baskets are filled with things like sausage, ham, salt, bread, and cheese. All of which are then cut into little tiny pieces at Easter breakfast for the entire family to eat food that has been blessed by the priest.
Rekawka and Emaus Easter Festivals: These are the two festivals following Easter, with Emaus occuring the day after, and Rekawka two days later. Emaus is more of a festival for children, with loads of baloons, cotton candy, other sweets, and handmade items for sale. Legend has it, if you don’t buy a Jewish-Man figure from the festival you will have bad luck for the entire year. Rekawka is a little more adult, traditional festival goods are sold, but they are accompanied by a re-enactment of battle on the Krakus Mound, complete with men in medieval gear!
Corpus Christi, Zalipie, and the Lajkonik: You can find processions traveling all throughout the town on this holiday, with the small villages decorated with banners and alters throughout. The Sunday after Corpus Christi is when the painted village of Zalipie holds its famous competition, and the week after is when you can find the Lajkonik prancing through the streets of Krakow, followed by a procession of people trying to get good luck from him.
The Bread Festival: Held in Krakow, this is an all weekend event that celebrates Polish bread and other similar specialties. With a competition in bread-making and many stalls set up selling all sorts of traditional products, you can also watch children and adults perform traditional dances and songs.
The Salt Festival: Held in Wieliczka every year at the Salt Works Castle, this festival celebrates traditional song, dance, and salt mining! With a bunch of fun activities like making pottery and paper, you can learn a lot about salt, have some beer and food, and enjoy the surrounding areas.
St. John’s Fair Jarmarka Swietjanski: This fair celebrates medieval times, with a huge Wianki (flower crown) competition on Saturday, and performances all three weekend nights, including a fire show, musical numbers, and re-enactments. Grab a beer, have some food, and watch the performances or visit the stalls of the potter, blacksmith, etc… Really fun event for kids!
Wianki The Biggest Music Festival in Krakow: On the weekend of the longest day of the year, there is always multiple stages set-up around the city with musical acts performing all day and all night, and at the end a fireworks show. Just check in with the Festival office for a complete line-up of acts and locations of shows, happening from Wawel to the Main Square, in Plac Szepanski, Maly Rynek, and more!
Christmas Time in Krakow: December is a magical month, with the Main Square hosting a famous Christmas market for the entire month, and a 6-10 course Christmas Eve Dinner if you are lucky enough to find a family to take you in for the holiday. And the famous Szopka Competition, or better know in English as the Nativity Scene or Christmas Crib. Children, adults, individuals, and groups all work to build their own handmade nativities, each with its own style, judged the first Thursday in December on the Main Square. For a list of everything you should indulge in at the Christmas Market check out our list of 12 must-have items. Or check out our 12 days of Christmas in Krakow campaign!
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