About This Festival
Known locally as “El Colacho” but internationally as “the baby jumping festival,” this Spanish ritual involves men dressed as the devil in red and yellow jumpsuits paired with modern running shoes, jumping over babies born during the twelve month period leading up to the event. The festival traditionally takes place on the Sunday after Corpus Christi (usually in May or June), but this is Spain — festival dates can sometimes change at the whim of the town.
Going Against the Papal Grain
The Brotherhood of Santísimo Sacramento de Minerva is the mysterious black clad brotherhood that curates the event every year. Despite religious roots, the festival is not officially sanctioned by the church, which is probably of little concern to the Spanish babies, who, if surveyed, might prefer a more traditional baptism.
El Colacho began around 1620, in the town of Castrillo de Murcia in northern Spain, where the festival is based. The ritual of jumping over babies was thought to bless the newborn children and remove original sin, preparing them for a life on God’s true path and protecting from illness to boot. Who needs vaccinations when the devil himself has purified you? The absorption of evil by a vessel (in this case the devil’s body) is a common theme in other festivals like Japan’s Hadaka Matsuri. However, prominent church officials, including the pope, don’t approve of the ritual, insisting that baptism with holy water is the only way to achieve true purification in the eyes of God. Though Church officials have pressured Spanish priests to discourage Catholics from taking part in El Colacho, the festival is still a vibrant tradition replete with musical processions through the village with Beelzebub chasing the young and old, and teenagers in lederhosen dancing an Irish jig. Yes, it’s all a little surreal.
Sleepy Town & Babies in Bed
Castrillo de Murcia is a sleepy village with a population of just 500. But during the week following Corpus Christi, and especially by the Sunday of El Colacho, the town is bustling with activity as Spaniards from the Burgos region and a few curious tourists come to witness the ritual. Some eager parents travel a hell of a long way to baptize their babies. The festival starts up to a week in advance of the “baby jump” with music, running through the streets, feasting and general merriment. Costumed members of the brotherhood chase festivalgoers with whips that pack a serious punch, not unlike Pamplona’s San Fermin.
Babies are swaddled in two rows of bedding so up to ten children can be “blessed” in one jump. The idea is that the “devils” jumping over the babies will lure the evil spirits away as they leap and leave the babies pure. It’s all in good fun and while people don’t take it too seriously, new parents definitely like to participate if only for the ritual’s cultural significance and the fact that everyone they know in the village has experienced this odd rite of passage.
Showered in Flowers
Still, despite the enthusiasm of the new parents and the confidence of the brotherhood’s jumpers, some babies tend to get nervous. It’s not uncommon for newborns to be in tears, mostly because of the commotion. Other babies find it funny, a few even fall asleep missing the whole spectacle! The show itself has the audience gripped and gasping and, although there has never been any serious injury to the babies during hundreds of years of “the devil’s jump,” it’s still quite a shock to see these hurdlers clear the broad mattresses full of beaming babies.
After the children are blessed, they’re sprinkled with flower petals and removed from their vulnerable positions. The blessings are followed by a parade through the streets of Castrillo. The parade concludes at the town church perched atop a hill and then with a party with copious amounts of regional, rustic red wine flowing.