The Burning of Zozobra (a.k.a. “Old Man Gloom”)

Every year on the Friday before Labor Day, Santa Fe celebrates Fiestas, a tradition dating back to 1712. The Fiestas were originally a solemn remembrance of the reconquest of the City in 1692 by the Spanish, led by Don Diego de Vargas. In 1680, an organized all Pueblo coordinated revolt against Spanish rule over the native Americans’ life, culture, practices, religions and their enslavement culminated in the massacre of approximately 500 Santa Fe residents, a large portion of the population in Santa Fe at that time.

zozobra celebrationBurning of Zozobra. Image by Gabriela Campos, Santa Fe New Mexican via The Associated Press.

The martyred were taken to what is now known as the Cross of the Martyrs. The remaining residents fled south to El Paso where they waited 12 years for Spain to send a small contingent of soldiers, friars and tradesmen to retake the town. While branded as a peaceful reconquest, it was in reality a pay-back massacre of many Pueblo children and parents. A few years ago, protests from the native American people about the white washing of the event forced the dropping of the misleading and false title of the Peaceful Reconquest.

From 1712 until the 1920’s, Fiestas was a very solemn and sad celebration, focused on the revolt and its impact and consequences to the Spanish inhabitants at that time. By the 1920’s, Santa Fe’s art colony was well established. Will Shuster was one of the Cinco Pintores (5 painters) of Santa Fe’s early 20th century art colony. The other 4 were Fremont Ellis, Walter Mruk, Jozef Bakos and Willard Nash. They all agreed that the Fiestas was too dire and gloomy, so at a Fiestas party at his home, Will Shuster unveiled a 6-foot effigy of an old man that was ceremoniously burned in Shuster’s back yard to signify the burning of all the past year’s gloomy thoughts and disappointments. This heralded a new theme for Fiestas. Soon pets were costumed and there was a pet parade, another tradition added to Fiestas on Saturdays after the burning of Zozobra. By mid-20th century, Zozobra had morphed into a 50 foot tall puppet whose arms and head move when he is set ablaze in the evening in front of 50,000 residents and tourists. Through gigantic speakers behind Old Man Gloom, as he is set ablaze by costumed dancers, Zozobra’s moving jaws boom roars of pain and terrible moaning.

The Burning of Zozobra is part of “Fiestas”, a Santa Fe tradition dating back to 1712.

People scream “Let him burn” in excitement as the Old Man Gloom effigy is set ablaze and the scariest moans and groans only get louder and louder! The burning of Zozobra is now a high point of the Fiestas as is the Pet Parade (Desfile de los niños) around the Plaza. Young and old parade with their pets in costumes, every pet from donkeys, dogs and cats to reptiles and parrots.

Fiesta Queen in white with her court.Image by Gabriela Campos, Santa Fe New Mexican via The Associated Press.

Then the historical/hysterical parade (Desfile de la gente) was added for Sundays, a hilariously fun parade around the Plaza making fun of Santa Fe’s politicians, prominent residents, including marching bands, mariachis, floats, and show cars!

Now that these 3 more light-hearted events have been added to Fiestas; the weekend is kid, locals and tourist friendly, an eating extravaganza of local cuisine at food booths on the Plaza and just good vibes. The burning of Zozobra is a must and a fun way to experience our town during its most celebratory weekend. This is one of the many reasons we are known as “The City Different.”

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Remember to stop by the Inn on the Alameda before or after attending your event for wine, cocktails and dining!

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