Rękawka or "Sleeve" Festival in Kraków

The Rękawka or "Sleeve" Festival is a tradition that has been celebrated in Kraków, Poland, for centuries. It always takes place after Easter, at the foot of Krak`s Mound, which is one of four artifical mounds in Kraków.

Krak`s Mound, which is the most ancient of all, is situated in the southern part of the city. Legend says that the pagan subjects loved their ruler Krak so much that after he died, they built an enormous burial mound for him, carrying earth in their sleeves (rekaw).

  rekawka3
In the early Middle Ages, Rękawka was a religious festival connected with the cult of the dead. Sword and axe fights took place to honor the memory of the dead and scare away demons that could threaten good souls. People lit fires on graves and offered food to the dead.

rekawka2

Today the festival is no longer a religious event. Its aim is to demonstrate what life and work were like in the early Middle Ages. During the festival, the area around the mound is supposed to look like an old Slavic settlement from the past, with primitive tents and workshops demonstrating barrel making, blacksmithing, ropemaking, and other trades.

   

rekawka1

It is the people who make this festival so attractive and colorful. Mostly university students, they impersonate pagan Slavs: those dressed as peasants wear light flaxen shirts and trousers, women wear colorful robes and dresses with jewelry, while warriors have helmets, swords and iron or leather armor.

In 2006, there were also events that referred to this year`s festival theme: "Courtship and Marriage of Slavic People." So, they staged courting and wedding traditions, marriage fortune telling, and the ritual suicide of a widow. There were also competitions, e.g. of housewives milking the goats (goats were artificial, and rubber gloves imitated udders. Very funny!). There were dances and a concert. The festival lasted all day.
rekawka4 We had fun purchasing souveniers and trying our hand at various activities. We bought two boar`s feet (they were considered symbols of strength by old Slavs), a real combat arrow with a sharp metal point, a bone knife, a horse's jaw (used as a weapon by poor warriors) and a cow`s horn used for drinking mead.

 

This text was modified partly from Jerzy's article on Rekawka, click on the link to see pictures from 2004 and read the full text.

All text and photographs ©Jerzy 2004-2006

Return to the Polish Culture Website or the Polish Culture SITE MAP, which includes all articles classified according to topic. See other articles about Easter in Poland including Easter food and traditions. Also of interest are the articles about Pagan Traditions of Spring