Leaping Lucifers: The Spanish Baby-Jumping Festival

The Spanish town of Castrillo de Murcia doesn't need running bulls or even booze to have fun. Just give them some mattresses, a bunch of babies and a handful of fun-loving guys -- dressed up like devils -- and you've got yourself a fiesta.

If you've ever lived within earshot of a newborn child, it's no stretch to imagine they can have something devilish inside. The inhabitants of the northern Spanish town of Castrillo de Murcia have developed an ingenious technique for exorcising seemingly innocent children. Just spread them on mattresses in the middle of the street, and have a bunch of demons leap over them.

This baby-leaping tradition is part of the El Colacho festival, which has reportedly been held in this town since 1620, though its origins are obscure. The event happens every year as part of the festivities associated with Corpus Christi, a Christian feast day that falls on a Thursday between late May and June.

The festival is organized by the brotherhood of Santísimo Sacramento de Minerva, whose members assume the two main roles associated with the festival: those of el Colacho and el Atabalero. El Colacho, who represents the devil, is dressed in a bright yellow and red outfit and mask, and el Atabalero wears a black suit and a sombrero and goes through the town with his large drum.

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Beginning on the Wednesday before the festival, the two characters cavort around the town chasing people, terrorizing them with their whips and truncheons and generally causing trouble.

The most important day of the festival comes on Sunday, when a parade winds though the city, beginning and ending at the town church. The town's residents adorn their houses with flowers and set out small "altars" with wine and water for the parade-goers. Members of the clergy and children from the town who have received the rite of First Communion march in the parade.

Overall, the festival entails an annual purging of evil from the town. The parade symbolically corrals the evil back toward the church, where it can be dissipated.

And then comes the fun part.

All children born since the previous year's festival are laid out on mattresses on a street leading away from the church. The figures dressed as el Colacho then run out of the church and down the street, leaping over the mattresses. They represent all the concentrated evil of Castrillio de Murcia, cleansing the babies and making a hasty diabolical getaway.

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