The sound of the bell resonates inside the church. Positioned under christ’s cross, the devil is waiting. Suddenly the doors open. He perceives it as a religious sign, telling him to burst out of the edifice and look for babies. The event happened on the last day of El Colacho. It’s the Spanish baby jumping festival.
What is the Spanish baby jumping festival about?
It’s a worldwide unique event, hosted every year in Castrillo de Murcia. It celebrates the catholic feast of Corpus Christi, but with the weirdest ceremony in Spain: “El Colacho”. After days of processions and celebrations, the devil appears and jumps over babies.
Castrillo de Murcia stands out from other Spanish cities for this ritual. It attracts people from all over the world, curious about this celebration, where good triumphs over evil.
What are the protagonists of El Colacho?
The Spanish baby jumping festival stands each year after Trinity Sunday. From the following Wednesday to Sunday, celebrations animate the city. The same protagonists coordinate it for centuries.
The brotherhood of Santisimo Sacramento de Minerva
This mysterious fraternity organizes the Spanish baby jumping festival every year. During the celebrations, they usually come down from their headquarters to frighten people they meet, whipping them. Moreover, two chosen members dress either as the devil, El Colacho, or as the drummer, El Atabalero.
The indivisible duo of the Spanish baby jumping festival
The celebration gravitates around one main character: the devil or El Colacho. Dressed in a flashy costume, only his eyes reveal his human nature. His face covering by an absurd yellow mask. The main role of the devil is to scare away people and jump over babies. His hand holds a large castanet. And the sound of this instrument resonates through the city like a warning, in unison with the drum beats of El Atabalero.
This singular partner accompanies him during the whole celebration. “El Atabalero” means “the drummer” in Spanish. He’s recognizable by wearing a long black coat and a top hat. He always stands beyond the yellow devil.
This strange couple isn’t performed by the same people each year. In fact, a handover is organized each year for nominating the next team. Two El Colacho preside over the week. The one that will jump over babies this year and his double, that will make the same ritual the following year. This last one is in charge of coordinating everything.
What is happening during the Spanish baby jumping festival?
For days, Castrillo de Murcia is at the core of religious celebrations. “El Salto del Colacho” is the highlight of the festival. But Corpus Christi is revered all the week, through several rituals.
El Colacho begins the Wednesday after the Trinity Sunday. Songs and processions are performed in the evening to announce the opening of the festivities. The devil won’t leave his den before the next day.
Entering a church
His first act begins on Thursday. He has to go into a church without his mask. In his shadow, several members of the brotherhood follow him. They take off their hats at the view of the church. Rhythmed by the sound of drums, they enter all together into the sacred place. Everyone has an assigned place to seat during the mass.
Strolling in the city
But during the whole week, the main processions are taking place in the living streets. El Colacho and his loyal partners stroll the streets. El Atabalero assists the devil by establishing the rhythm of the walk. At the sight of this strange parade, children know what to do. They get closer to the yellow creature, with the willingness to rebuke him. In reply, El Colacho chases the youngest to hit them (gently) with a horse-tail lash.
The last procession: the baby jumping
A big parade is organized on the last Sunday of the festivities. It starts at the town church and goes around the city. On the way, colorful flowers embellish the houses of the inhabitants. In the spirit of the tradition, residents set up small altars in front of their residences. In the center of these shrines, two sparkling glasses laid on. One is with wine, as a reference to Corpus Christi. The other one is full of water. It will help the staff of the parade pursues the celebrations.
In the main street of the city, another ritual is in progress. Small soft mattresses lie on the ground, covered with white sheets. Moreover, colorful pillows complete the decoration. When the installation is ready, mommies start to appear. They put their newborn babies on the mastresses, both happy and concerned for them. Before the devil come, members of the religious order and children who already had their first communion parade next to the children.
At the end of the ceremony, El Colacho bursts out of the church. He runs down the street like a fury, without any mask. At the sight of the main street, he speeds up, jumps over the babies, and vanquished out of the city. His escape symbolizes the evil being chased away, taking with him the original sins of the newborns.
After the brief appearance of El Colacho, the last parade comes back. Young girls and members of the brotherhood cover children with delicate petal roses. This ritual completes this unique blessing. Indeed, children are cleaned of their sins and baptized.
At the end of the Spanish baby jumping festival, not only the babies are purified but the whole city is now free from its past sins. The devil vanquished, therefore the good has defeated the evil.
The feast for the winners
To celebrate this victory, the brotherhood hosts a big feast for everybody. People are provided with bread and wine, as a reference to the Corpus Christi. On the table full of food, people will also gaze at several ‘orejuelas’. The community highly appreciates this delicious dessert, made with flour, oil, butter, and baking soda.
What are the origins of the Spanish baby jumping festival?
El Colacho’s origins aren’t clear. According to historians, it started around 1620, after Trinity Sunday.
Nevertheless, the celebrations seem to have pagan origins. After several years, it became linked to Corpus Christi. It’s now a mix between traditional Spanish folklore and Christianism.
What scandals happened during El Colacho?
Despite the brotherhood proclaiming the festival as a religious event, the Spanish baby jumping festival isn’t recognized by the Vatican. Indeed the rituals are unorthodox. And the old Pope Benedict warned Catholics of Castrillo de Murcia to not participate in this event.
Regardless of this caution, the inhabitants intend to perpetuate this practice for still several centuries. It’s an honor for newborns to be baptized in this unique way. Moreover, no accidents have ever happened during the celebrations.
The Spanish baby festival celebrates Corpus Christi in a unique worldwide way. Combining the Christian religion with pagan culture, these celebrations intrigue and scandalize. But it still attracts a growing audience, curious to see the devil jumping over the baby. After the festivities, the evil is finally out of town, until the next Corpus Christi…
It’s not the only special event that Spain hosts. Each year, la Tomatina Festival also attracts thousands of people worldwide.