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Baby Jumping Festival: Castrillo de Murcia, Spain

Baby Jumping Festival: Castrillo de Murcia, Spain

Jump, Jump, Baby

Six toddlers lie swaddled on a mattress in the open air. Another cluster of babies lie wrapped in blankets a few feet away while a little farther down the village street there are more infants looking up at the sky while eyed by a crowd of serious looking spectators who occasionally step forward to tuck in a child and stop him or her from rolling over onto the hard pavement. Two men emerge from the church in front. They look like court jesters, dressed as they are in medieval outfits of yellow and orange. They run down the steps and across the small plaza not slowing down as they approach the baby obstacles. Instead they gather speed and leap across the oblivious infants and repeat the jump over each mattress laid before them, turning to jump the mattresses again while the crowd sings and church bells ring out.

Welcome to the infamous baby jumping festival in Northern Spain where Catholic child abuse gets a whole new meaning. It is the culmination of 4 days of self-imposed exorcism, when the town of Castrillo de Murcia near Burgos spills out onto its narrow streets and takes on the devil in all his forms. The yellow suited men are known as colachos and they spend the weekend terrorizing the locals with whips and sticks. They run through the crowded streets, dispersing jeering groups of onlookers and chasing bystanders. A sinister group of men in dark capes and top hats look on in the distance, banging a huge drum.

These are the atabaleros, another form of the devil that must be banished from the town by the following Sunday. El Fiesta del Colacho takes place during the boisterous Corpus Christi celebrations that engulf the entire country with parades and singing. It happens 60 days after Easter and is a celebration of the Catholic Eucharist when the body of Christ becomes bread and wine.

Officially the Catholic church frowns upon grown men jumping over vulnerable infants on public thoroughfares. However, the locals are fanatical followers of a tradition that goes back centuries. On the final Sunday, the devils are banished to the church and every child born the preceding year is laid out on the mattresses in the streets in front. El Colacho is unmasked within the church and forced to flee into the small plaza where he long jumps the short people. This Lucifer leaping of the babies is regarded as a symbolic act that purges all evil and reputedly brings good luck to the children who seem to emerge unperturbed.

When to Go: Late May/June.
Burgos (44km/27 miles).
$$ NH Palacio de la Merced, Calle de la Merced 13, Burgos ( 34/94/747-9900; www.nh-hotels.com). $$ Hotel Silken Gran Teatro, Avda de Arlanzon 8-b, Burgos ( 34/947/253-900; www.hoteles-silken.com).

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