Zozobra: Santa Fe’s Original Burning Man
Zozobra, aka Old Man Gloom, is a Santa Fe tradition that kicks off the historic city’s annual Fiesta celebrations. Each year on the Thursday following Labor Day, a 50 foot marionette and gloomy effigy, goes up in flames before a crowd of 20-30,000 onlookers in Santa Fe’s Fort Marcy Park. Decked out in his traditional white robes, only the puppet’s hair color and, more recently, the color of his bowtie and sash, change with each celebration. The yearly burning of Zozobra, stuffed with the Santa Fean’s scrawled troubles, divorce papers, pink slips, and other reminders of the year’s hardships, is thought to erase the tribulations of the past, and leave behind a clean slate for the coming year.
Started by local artist Will Shuster in 1924, and continued today by the Santa Fe Kiwanis Club, it’s a spectacle not to be missed. As dusk descends, Zozobra is condemned by the crowd to a fiery fate. A Fire Dancer, along with 2-3 dozen children, “Glooms,” dressed in white sheets, take the stage at Zozobra’s feet. The Glooms dance and beg for Zozobra’s release, but are chased away by the Spirit Fire Dancer. Several Fire Dancers perform a riveting ritual as the Spirit Dancer teases flames closer and closer to the doomed behemoth. After much fanfare, Old Man Gloom is at last ignited. His robes ablaze, he comes alive, moaning and wailing and waving his arms, while fireworks light the sky. After a cathartic burn, he collapses in a charred heap, signaling the start of Fiestas de Santa Fe.
2012 marks the 88th annual celebration of Zozobra. For the people of Santa Fe, and pilgrims from across the state and country, it’s a chance to literally and figuratively burn the past and begin new. Come see Zozobra for yourself, and leave your cares aflame in The City Different.
Photo by Kelli R. Abeyta