El Colacho

June 19 - 23, 2014
Castrillo de Murcia, Spain
Photo credit: Chip Conley
El Colacho
Crowd
    Intimate to                 Massive
Attendees
    Local to                 International
Participation
    Spectator to                 Immersive
Preparation
    Simple to                 Complicated
Transformation
    Quiet to                 Life-Altering

Overview

Brave babies undergo an aerial baptism by leaping lucifers in this boisterous festival that could only be found in Spain.

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Festival Stats
  • Crowd
  • Attendees
  • Participation
  • Preparation
  • Transformation

Location

Castrillo de Murcia is in the province of Burgos, which is located in the north of the Iberian Peninsula. The actual baby-jumping takes place in the town square.

Chip's take

When I mention to people that I go to festivals for a living, they imagine me bumping

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When I mention to people that I go to festivals for a living, they imagine me bumping and grinding at a music festival or sitting in a theater watching high arts at a cultural fest. But, part of my job as a fest fanatic is to hang out in town squares watching some of the strangest rituals like grown men dressed in garish Spanish superhero costumes, leaping over a bevy of babies on a mattress. This odd but fun festival has been called "a spiritual vacuum cleaning service," as the babies are shielded from the devil by this bizarre local custom.

It may sound strange (Spain has cornered the market on wild and weird festivals), but just know that any festival that’s nearly 400 years old has to be serving some important function in local society. Frankly, because this is such an indigenous festival and there are so few non-locals there, people really appreciate that you’ve made the trek for El Colacho and you’re likely to make some new friends with whom you’ll stay in touch.

 

Grown men dressed in garish superhero costumes, leaping over babies to save their souls. I just love Spanish festivals!

Photos & Videos From the Festival

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Essentials

Plan on spending from noon till 8 in Castrillo on Sunday. While the baby jumping starts at 6 p.m., there is a collection of daytime activities that usually are in one of three places: the church, the town square or the main looping circular promenade around town. The primary activity is what’s called the “run” when El Colacho, a drummer, and a sober group of undertakers saunters through town as the devil tries to whip those on the parade route.

Be prepared to drink some wine. After each of the runs around town on Sunday, everyone gathers in the town square and wine is brought out along with locally-cooked pastries. The prime time for this activity is after the noon church ceremony and first afternoon run around town. During the afternoon, people gather in the one commercial establishment in town, Bar Manso, for more drinking.

Wear long pants. Given that Castrillo is almost a half-mile elevation, it can be cool there so dress in layers, but most importantly, wearing long pants means you’re less likely to show any welts from El Colacho’s whip. Believe us, we’ve seen some ugly leg welts.

As with any festival connected to religion, it’s important to be respectful. Although El Colacho has an admittedly ridiculous component to it, there are people who take it seriously.

See El Cid’s remains in an amazing cathedral. Before or after El Colacho, visit the gorgeous Gothic cathedral in Burgos that contains there mains of El Cid, the infamous soldier of fortune from 1,000 years ago.


Practicalities

Fly into tiny Burgos Airport (RGS) in northern Spain via major cities like Barcelona. From there go by taxi or rental car. Alternatively, you can fly into Madrid and take the two and a half hour train ride to Burgos.

If you want to bypass the lengthy feast prior to El Colacho, you could just make this a day trip. However, if local color and the low­key aspects of this festival are right up your alley, this could be your favorite part of visiting Spain.

We recommend you stay in Burgos, 27 miles away, since there are no hotels in Castrillo. Our favorites are Via Gotica and AC Burgos. Give yourself at least a couple of days in nearby Burgos. This is a city of nearly 200,000 people on the rise. With the new Museum of Human Evolution open, being named the Gastronomic Capital of Spain for 2013 (try Morito and Casa Ojeda restaurants), a medieval, pedestrian-only downtown and the Camino de Santiago pilgrims coming through town every day, Burgos has a lot to offer. And, if you stay later in June, you can also experience Fiesta Mayores de San Pedro y San Pablo that takes full advantage of this beautiful, labyrinthine center of the city.

Details

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 in the previous twelve months. 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 might prefer a more traditional baptism.

El Colacho dates to 1620, born in the town of Castrillo de Murcia in northern Spain that calls the festival home. 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. There’s another beneficial side effect: the babies are protected from illness. Who needs vaccinations when the very 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 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 El Colacho 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 have traveled a long way to baptize their own 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.

Despite religious roots, the festival is not officially sanctioned by the church, which is probably of little concern to the  Spanish babies who might prefer a more traditional baptism.

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, even a few are fast asleep, with no idea of the exorcism that just happened! The spectacle itself sends gasps through the audience. 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 feat and 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 mercifully removed from their vulnerable positions. The blessings are followed by a parade through the streets of Castrillo past the flower­bedecked homes of the town’s residents. 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.