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Devils jump over babies in Spanish village's unusual festival

Devils jump over babies in Spanish village's unusual festival
A man dressed as the El Colacho, a traditional figure representing the devil, jumps over a group of babies in Castrillo de Murcia, Spain, during the traditional El Colacho celebrations on June 26, 2011. The tradition dates back to the 17th century. File Photo by Santi Otero/EPA

June 17 (UPI) -- A Spanish village is preparing for one of its most unusual celebrations of the year: El Salto del Colacho, also known internationally as the "Baby-Jumping Festival."

The celebration of El Colacho, a local mythical figure representing the devil, involves men dressed in red and yellow Colacho costumes running through the streets of the village, Castrillo de Murcia, causing mischief with whips and castanets and culminates with the baby-jumping event -- El Salto del Colacho, or "The Flight of the Colacho" -- on the Sunday after the Feast of Corpus Christie, which falls on June 19 this year.

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Residents of the village, as well as an ever-increasing number of visitors from elsewhere in Spain and around the world, place babies born during the past 12 months on a succession of mattresses set up on a village street.

A group of black-clad, drum-beating pious men known as Atabalero arrive on the scene to chase El Colacho, who flees by jumping over the mattress-bound babies. The babies are then sprinkled with rose pedals and returned to their parents, who are usually found sitting next to the mattresses to keep the infants calm.

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Locals said there are no records of babies having ever been harmed during the jumping portion of the festival, although some men portraying El Colacho have suffered pulled hamstrings as a consequence of all the jumping.

The act of jumping over the babies is said to cleanse them of original sin and offer protections against disease and other misfortunes. El Colacho also absorbs any evil spirits that were inhabiting the babies, and a parade directly following the baby jumping herds the Colacho performers to the local church so they and the spirits they absorbed can be symbolically destroyed -- the actors themselves are not harmed.

The event is organized each year by the Catholic Brotherhood of the Sacred Sacrament of Minerva, whose members portray both El Colacho and the Atabalero.

The baby jumping tradition, which dates back to at least 1620, is believed to have started as a melding of pagan and Catholic traditions, although its exact origins are unclear. The event is not officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church, and Pope Benedict XVI was reported to have advised local Catholic clergy members not to participate in the tradition, as it could be confused with a substitute for a traditional baptism.

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Despite the lack of official approval, the event has only gotten larger in recent years. Elderly residents of the town said they can remember when the festival was a solemn event, with small groups of spectators watching silently while on their knees, but in more recent decades the atmosphere has become more jubilant, owing at last somewhat to the popularity of the baby jumping as a tourist draw.

El Salto del Colacho takes place Sunday in Castrillo de Murcia.

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