El Colacho

Jun 7, 2015
Castrillo de Murcia, Spain
Photo by: Nick Gammon
Brave babies undergo an aerial baptism by leaping lucifers in this boisterous festival that could only be found in Spain.

Video

The Baby Jumping Festival, Spain - El Colacho

  • video thumbnail for Baby Jumping Festival in Spain
    Baby Jumping Festival in Spain
Details
Essentials

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.

Essentials

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.

Essentials

Inside Scoop

Chip's Take

El Colacho 2014 Nick Gammon   05

 

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. 

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.