El Colacho, The Spanish Baby Jumping Festival
It’s enough to make a Health and Safety Manager clutch his clipboard with whitened knuckles and nervously chew the end of his pencil (having first completed a Risk Assessment and advised himself of the danger of oral splinters and graphite addiction). The Spanish have a festival which involves a load of men dressed up as devils, clutching whips and outsized castanets, jumping over babies which have been dumped by their loving parents in the middle of the road.
El Colacho is a traditional catholic Spanish holiday celebrated in Castrillo de Murcia, in northern Spain. No one seems to know who came up with the baby jumping idea, but the festival started in the early 1600’s and has expanded over the years into a four day event (actually that sounds a bit equestrian, better not give them ideas, this sounds dangerous enough without Dobbin and Eeyore getting involved).
The purpose of El Salto del Colacho (the jump of the devil) is to cleanse the young infants of man’s original sin and thus give them a fresh start in life. In most places baptism just involves a bit of a dunk in the old holy water followed by a screaming fit and a party with sandwiches and a bouncy castle in the garden, so these babies are probably heading straight for sainthood.
The actual jumping bit happens on the last day of the festival (a Sunday). For most of the day the devils, dressed in red and yellow costumes, go around the town whipping anyone they can find and beating them with their castanets while accompanied by a drummer and church members dressed as undertakers. Then around 6pm the babies are brought out and the village 800m hurdles begins.
The evil devils sprint along the road, jumping over each of the piles babies in turn. As they jump over the babies evil is taken with them and the babies are cleansed of sin. Presumably if a devil fails to clear a baby that’s a sign from God to keep a careful eye on this one, it’s probably going to be trouble. Thanks to the skill and dedicated training regime of the devils, no baby is known to have been harmed in the 400 year history of the festival.
In recent years the Vatican has advised its priests not to get involved in the El Colacho festival as it is not recognised as a valid form of baptism. This seems a shame as, valid or not, it’s one of the many things that make the world a more interesting place and also make the church seem like a more fun and appealing institution. Unless of course it’s pressure from the Holy Water manufacturers trying to head off any competition…