Krakow’s Festival of Stick Leaning

Krakow’s Festival of Stick Leaning is an annual event rarely mentioned in the tourist guides. Each year, as winter reaches its peak, the head of every household braves the frigid night air to perform the Leaning of the Stick. The stick is taken down from its resting place, often above the family stove, and decorated with festive red and white hazard tape. At midnight the stick is leant against the outside wall of the family house or apartment building and the stick-leaning orison is recited “I lean this stick at the appropriate angle as it has been leant before and will be leant again.”

stick-leaning

The height of Stick-Leaning season in the heart of Krakow

The origins of stick leaning are a contentious subject. The proximity of the Festival of Stick Leaning to Ash Wednesday and the advent of Lent* have led many scholars to believe it has Christian roots. Some theologians claim that Abraham leant his shepherd’s crook against a big rock just before setting about his son with a knife, while other assert the leaning of the stick is a reference to Jesus taking a breather on the way up a hill. More recently a number of secular historians have pointed to similarities between the modern tradition and instances at pre-Christian archeological sites of things leaning against other things.

stick-leaning1

Not everyone can afford the red-and-white decoration, and some disapprove of it altogether

For now, the Festival of Stick Leaning has escaped the attention of Krakow’s tourist hordes and it has retained its charming local character. How long this will continue remains to be seen.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Okay, I lied about the Festival of Stick Leaning. In fact the leant sticks are there to warn pedestrians about huge icicles hanging off the rafters and, therefore, that it’s best to keep to the road-side of the pavement. They’re an admirably abstract semiotic case study.

icicles_krakow_3

The real reason for the Festival of Stick Leaning

To a local, a stick leaning against a building is an almost subconscious signifier that it’s wise to keep away. To a non-local it’s an invitation to think “Oh look, I wonder why somebody left that stick there” just before getting a couple of metric tons of snow and ice in the back of the neck. Very occasionally you might come across a hapless fellow tourist sprawled on the pavement with an icicle spear sticking out of their back and think to yourself “My god there’s a fellow tourist with a… hang on, what’s that stick doing there leaning against the wall?” followed by a low rumbling noise and 40 kilos of spear-shaped ice heading in your general direction.

Once, a long time ago, I saw a hastily hand-written sign saying “UWAGA SOPLE!” pinned to the outside of a building “Hmm” I thought to myself “I know ‘UWAGA!’ means ‘LOOK OUT!’ but I wonder what I should be looking out for. From which direction can I expect this peril? Will it chase me? Can it smell fear? Should I bribe somebody at this point?” And then I got bored and walked off. The encounter pretty much sums up my entire experience of Poland.

*leant: British English speakers only invited to enjoy this pun

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40 thoughts on “Krakow’s Festival of Stick Leaning

  1. MaterialGirl says:

    The sticks-leaning are just prepered to fight hand-to-hand.
    Those with red and white decoration for Poles other for foreigners! :D

    In true last week one of icicle hit happily not my head (but that will explain my posts here :D ) but my shoe. When it’s big – can even kill.
    Every landlord or landlady has to protect passers-by and clear of snow the pavement/sidewalk, some of them pour the sand or ash or the worst salt (very bad to the shoe) when it’s very slippery. They are just responsible for the house surroundings. If the icicle injure your body or you broke your leg/hand when you fall down because of ice on the path you can sue that landlord.

  2. Moniq says:

    Hi! I think you’re right with everything what’s on your site. I’m actually polish but it doesn’t matter. Could you write something more about… Polish guys in Great Britain.
    Beeest Wishes
    Moniq

  3. Bob says:

    Good post island – I was in Moscow a few years ago and there were icicles falling from the Ostankino tv tower that were about 4 meters long. It was amazing, they were like spears and there were covered walkways everywhere as protection

  4. guest says:

    iIsland write something about Polish guys in GB, Chinese guys in France and Italians in Ireland, plz.

  5. a. says:

    What about turkish guys in brazil? That would be also interesting! ;)

  6. ol says:

    Hi! I ve just discovered yours website. Its fantastic! I were laughing out loud reading this. Its really greate and funny. Im polish but you let me see my country from other point of view
    Happy birthday :-)))

  7. scatts says:

    I hate it when Jamie starts commenting on his own posts! ol, yeah right, pull the other one. ;)

    Lent. Very droll!

    Those sticks are just great. Simple, cheap but effective. Could never happen in the UK, just think of all those stick fights when the pubs turn out, not to mention the serious health hazard caused by tripping over them! Goodness me.

  8. guest says:

    There are lots of martial-arts students in Kraków, especially kendo, it seems. Some of them remain somehow patriotic.
    Hey, why not make most of it? Pamplona has the Encierro, Buñol is famous for La Tomatina, make stick fighting, no age nor weight limits, Kraków’s trademark tradition. Any of you Little John descendants interested?

  9. Dikeledi says:

    LOL I am originally from Krakow, although currently living in Glasgow, UK. It’s really funny to realize what non-cracov people would think about something so simple for local :) I’m really glad to found your site :)

  10. Bob says:

    Glasgow, UK (Scotland I think although depending on who you speak to the UK could work as well)

  11. island1 says:

    Moniq: It’s nice to hear you think we are right about everything :) We’ve been telling people this for years but they never believe us. Unfortunately I don’t know much about Polish men in the UK, but you never know.

    Bob: Ouch, that could really ruin your day.

    ol: Don’t listen to Scatts, he’s just jealous ‘cus they don’t have their own stick-leaning festival in Warsaw. Glad you’re enjoying Polandian. Come back for more.

    scatts: It’s true, they would surely be put to great use as offensive weapons. They are great, I especially like it when people use the trimmed-down trunk of their discarded Christmas tree – very economical.

    guest and material girl: Hmmm, the ancient Polish art of stick fighting… you might have something there. Extra points for knocking over a lajkonik?

    Dikeledi: I’m happy you enjoyed it, thanks! That’s some interesting scrap-book work you have there.

  12. Bob says:

    Extra points for knocking over a lajkonik? (only if you don’t break it’s head the rules say)

  13. basia says:

    Sticks lying around? In Toronto, Canada this would quickly spiral out of control into a massive street hockey game. Grown men vying for the puck (frozen paczek leftover from Tlusty Czwartek), yelling “Car!!!” when a oncoming traffic interfered with the game.

  14. Bob says:

    Basia – great comment – I can envision that as well. With all of the petty theft in Poland I am amazed that the ‘sticks’ don’t disappear more often! (must be the catholic rules of penance for ‘stick removal’)

  15. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    Well, what would you need the stick for? I can imagine the dragon of Wawel used one of them to pick its teeth, but I hear it’s been dead for some time now.

    I like the idea of a hockey game. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those sticks fell prey to football hooligans.

  16. MaterialGirl says:

    Scatts,

    why you call me Jamie!!!

    I’m even not Janina!!!

    Do I really have to show you my tits you will believe then I’m not Jamie!!!

  17. guest says:

    I wonder if these sticks are lit in the evening so they can be seen and be of use. If so, is the light flickering or unflickering? :)

  18. MaterialGirl says:

    guest,

    the sticks certainly light the stars in your eyes when you get flogging with them! And the stars are flickering.

  19. Bob says:

    “Do I really have to show you my tits you will believe then I’m not Jamie!!!” Jamie showed his a bit when we had beers, ‘pretty impressive rack’ as commented by Ian and Adam

    Guest: these are the low tech variety of sticks, the solar variety that are lit by the power of the sun, Poland is touting them as being CO2 neutral and is looking for EU funding to expand the program

  20. MaterialGirl says:

    Ooops, I will better not showing my tits, because Jamie’s could be bigger! :D
    But I’m not smoker as Jamie is!

  21. island1 says:

    Bob: You swore you would still respect me in the morning, and now this!

  22. Bob says:

    Island – you fell for one of the 3 biggest lies in life! Actually I would not compare yours to Material Girl even though you were the only one to show, it wouldn’t be fair. Hope all is well in Krak. We are off to Scottsdale Arizona next week for the month of March – ahhhh – no Polish mud!!

  23. MaterialGirl says:

    Yeah! I support Jamie! More respect! :D

    I see from faces, from men, my brothers from the ghetto,
    They look me up and down a bit a tension each other.

    Won’ t you walk to my world, can’t you show some respect?
    Won’t you walk to my world, cause you can’t take me out, yeah?!

    These song made from me – pale girl – really dreadlock man and give me the real power always when I’m at the bottom. :) :) :)

  24. MaterialGirl says:

    Bob,

    I should scalp you if you come to Kraków and Ian too. ;)

  25. Pawel says:

    I can’t believe I missed that:>

  26. island1 says:

    MaterialGirl: Errm… have you been keeping up with your medication?

    Bob: No mud, but presumably hordes of rattlesnakes and the place will be mostly on fire – at least that what I learned at the movies. Have a good one.

  27. Karolina says:

    Enjoyed stumbling upon your blog.
    Thus a little surprise for you on mine (hope you can read Polish).
    BR, Karolina

  28. MaterialGirl says:

    island1,

    if you took some drug I did the same, because in Ian’s eyes we R 1 person!

  29. Bob says:

    hordes of rattlesnakes – right about that – last time I was golfing there I saw many (particularly since most of the time I was off in the scrub looking for my errant shots!

  30. MaterialGirl says:

    Bob,

    have a successful flight and watch out the opened-toe stewardess slippers! :D

  31. Sylwia says:

    So where’s the Lent pun for Brits? In it being leant and not leaned?

  32. island1 says:

    Sylwia: Correct, 5+.

  33. Pawel says:

    Geeeeeee with the new comments threadding, it’s not visible which comments are new….

    Not such a good idea IMHO

  34. Catherine says:

    They also do this stick thing in Zagreb. (Wonder if the Austro-Hungarians started it?)

    When I first saw it I thought it meant ‘don’t walk close to this wall – it’s about to fall down’…..

  35. Sylwia says:

    In Polish it’s “Very good, 3+” 5 is for God, 4 for the teacher, 3 for a student, or so many teachers used to tell us. ;)

    What threading? I can’t see any threading here, only comments moved to the left.

  36. Sylwia says:

    Oh, I can see some now. Must be not working well on the 1st level.

  37. island1 says:

    Catherine: Austro-Hungarian Stick Leaning, sounds like a best-seller to me.

  38. island1 says:

    Very kind of you.

    I’m afraid we’re not very good at spreading these memes, but you never know.

  39. Chris says:

    Bob …check out the German Corner …it s great (E Indian School Rd) no Piwo but the bier is great and the food too.

    Island you almost had me there for a second. I think Darth Vadar is looking for his sword :D

    MG…the stewardesses where $hit kickers there…better known as cowgirl boots and with spurs …so boys behave …LOL

  40. MaterialGirl says:

    Chris,

    wow! So those stewardess have to be sharp! :D

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