As with most historical ceremonies held by Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in the US, the tradition of the burning of this 50-foot tall effigy is linked to Spanish traditions, such as Fiestas, a celebration originally conceived in 1712 commemorating the peaceful re-conquest of Santa Fe by Don Diego de Vargas in 1692. Fiestas is both a civic and religious experience, lasting several days over a weekend in late summer, that includes the Children’s Pet Parade, which is not to be missed, as families decorate every imaginable pet from snakes to burros for a parade around the Plaza. Also a Hysterical/Historical Parade, poking fun at the town’s hysteria over its history. There is also an historically accurate and lavishly costumed re-enactment of the Entrada when Don Diego de Vargas returned to Santa Fe carrying the statue of La Madonna, which the fleeing Spanish had taken with them in 1680 at the outbreak of the Pueblo Revolt. As with most Santa Fe celebrations, there are food booths, an arts and crafts fair, dancing and a general sense of “fiesta” throughout the town with everyone yelling “Que Viva!” This is an abbreviated two-word phrase, meaning: “Long live Fiesta!”
In the midst of all of the fiesta splendor, there is one less cheerful event – a celebration of a darker sort: The Burning of Zozobra: Old Man Gloom.
In 1924, two of Santa Fe’s original Cinco Pintores (5 painters), conceived the idea of creating the opportunity for people to annually dispose of their worries and woes. Santa Feans, Gustauve Baumann and Will Shuster created the concept and subsequent tradition of the public burning of a 50-foot paper mache effigy of an old man by the name of Zozobra. Zozobra is Spanish for anxiety and people are encouraged to write down their sorrows, bad memories, general woes and even legal papers that they wish to see go up in smoke. A “sorrows” box is placed at the base of Zozobra into which, during the day of burning, people can drop their notes and documents as fodder for the grandest and most attended bonfire of the year.
This giant old man gloom is built with hidden speakers, arms that mechanically wave, eyes that creepily dart from side to side, and even jaws that move. As the final hours before the burning of Old Man Gloom wind down, up to 50,000 people – young and old – fill Fort Marcy Park in excited anticipation of the lighting and burning of Zozobra. First everyone waits for dusk…then dancers appear taunting and gyrating at the old man’s base as thick, black smoke begins to slowly rise. Then the air is permeated with groans and moans, coming from the gut of Zozobra himself…People are yelling “Burn Him!” and hooting and hollering in anticipation of the final act of destruction of this Old Man Gloom. The excitement is electric and everyone is swept up into the contagious thrill of this amazing tradition. Many people’s memories go back to their earliest childhood years and the roar of pleasure when the flames finally burst up through the middle of the effigy is deafening!
This event is always worth the effort. Go early; bring folding chairs and beverages and snacks (no alcohol can be legally allowed inside the park for everyone’s safety). Spread out your blankets and bring the family, as this is traditionally a very family friendly evening. Zozobra is just one of the many events in our hometown that makes us the City Different and this is a weekend to attend at least several times in your life.
We hope you stop by the Inn on the Alameda and join us for a drink and toast to the burning of Zozobra and the disbursement of all our sorrows into the smoke filled heavens.