El Colacho: The Unusual Baby Jumping Festival in Spain

El Colacho: The Unusual Baby Jumping Festival in Spain

El Colacho Festival in Spain has a ritual where people jump over the babies to welcome them to the world. / Photo by: pyrozhenka via Shutterstock

 

There are various baby rituals practiced in every culture around the world. These include the shaving of the baby’s head to remove the evil from its past life, circumcision, whispering into a newborn’s ear, giving the infant a small amount of honey for a first taste of the sweetness of life, and pouring of water over the baby’s head. All of these rituals are deemed important, as they serve as a way to welcome the baby to the world. 

What a wonderful and weird world we really live in, and if those rites mentioned above, as well as the myriad of other beliefs are not yet enough, there is another interesting festival practiced in a tiny village in Spain, where people welcome the infants to the world by jumping over them. They call this ritual the El Colacho.

The El Colacho

El Colacho, also known as baby jumping, is a Spanish holiday and practice that has been practiced since 1620. It takes place annually in a small village in the province of Burgos, Spain to celebrate the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi. To be more particular, the event is held in the town of Castrillo de Murcia. 

During the festival, babies born during the last 12 months are laid down on mattresses in the street. Then, a man dressed in a devil costume and holding whips and castanets, jumps over the children. The festival is celebrated once a year in mid-June.

What’s With the “Devil’s Jump?”

Prior to the jump, the man wearing a red and yellow devil costume runs wild around the Spanish village. He also throws insults at the villagers or bystanders and whips them with the horsetail that is attached to a stick. All of these are just for fun and it’s not actually a painful whipping that the “devil” dishes out. Following this, there will be drumming sounds to indicate the arrival of “atabalero,” the group of men who will drive out the devil.

According to the National Geographic, this celebration in this tiny Spanish village is a mixture of pagan and Catholic rituals that signifies the victory of good over evil. It is a “heart-stopping display,” wrote Gulnaz Khan, writing for the American digital site.

The devil’s jump, the villagers believe, is a way to cleanse the babies of their original sin, guard them against evil spirits and illnesses, and ensure a safe passage in life. Although the origins of the tradition are not clear, there are historians who believe that it started as a fertility ritual.

Repelling the Bad Luck for the Upcoming Year

As the devil-costumed man jumps over the babies, he is supposed to absorb their sins. Thus, the act symbolizes a protection for the babies against misfortune and disease later on in life. It is believed that the festival offers spectators the opportunity to also ward off their own bad luck in life for the upcoming year. Once the jump is done, the babies will be sprinkled with petals before their parents can finally reclaim them. Sharing of wine is also a big part of the festival.

Leap of Faith

The festival traditionally includes only babies from the village, but for the past couple of years, there have been some visitors from different places who have taken part in the event. 

For those who are not from the Castrillo de Murcia, they can volunteer their newborn to be included in the festival by making a trip to this northern part of Spain where the event happens two months after Easter or during the feast of Corpus Christi. Visitors can opt for a 2.5-hour bus ride or a 4.5-hour train ride from Madrid to the nearest big city to Castrillo de Murcia, which is Burgos. From there, it’s a mere 35-minute drive to the tiny village. Expect to spend a full day in Castrillo de Murcia if you take the day trip from Burgos.

At the Castrillo de Murcia during the festival, you will just have to place your baby on the pillow along with the other children. Soon, the “flight of the devil” will start.

 

Parents can still be included in the festival by going to Castrillo de Murcia and place their baby on the pillow with other children. / Photo by: Dmytro Kohut via Shutterstock

 

Some Don’t Approve

Not everyone is sold to this ritual. In 2012, A United Kingdom newspaper called Metro published a report that said Pope Benedict XVI himself specifically requested to the Spanish clergy that they distance themselves from the festival.

To date, no injuries have been reported as a result of the baby jumping ritual although the festival remains an issue with the Catholic Church.

Despite the controversy that involves Castrillo de Murcia, locals continue to celebrate the festival. Their tradition has also survived for centuries and may not likely vanish soon.

Catholic Christianity is, incidentally, the largest religion in Spain. The World Atlas said that around 67.4% of the Spanish population has identified themselves as Roman Catholic Christians. Their religion practices water baptism, wherein the infants will be gently dunked into holy water or the priest pours it on the baby's head as a sign that it is being absolved of the original sin.