The Burning of Zozobra – Santa Fe’s Old Man Gloom Goes Up in Smoke this Week!

The 98th annual burning of Zozobra will be this Friday, September 2, 2022, with the party beginning at 4 p.m., burning at 7:00 p.m. (or later depending on weather) and partying through the evening until 9:00 p.m. For tickets and information, check out the Kiwanis website here.

The burning is not just a reason to party. The Kiwanis Club uses the event to raise significant funds that they then divert to children’s programs in Santa Fe County. So it’s a great party for a great cause. And a great way to party like a local.

The first time I went to the burning of Zozobra was 1986. I was living in Albuquerque, a single mom and a legal assistant at Sutin, Thayer & Browne, and for weeks before the end of August, I kept hearing that we all had to go to Santa Fe for Zozobra. My son was four at the time, and I was a bit apprehensive about dragging a pre-schooler to what sounded like a pagan ritual, but my fear of missing out overrode my reluctance.

And of course Zozo did not disappoint.

My friend Patti was my guide and she brought along her eight year-old son and a blanket for us to sit on in Ft. Marcy Park. We went to the grocery store on the way to downtown Santa Fe and bought every decadent snack we could lay our hands on. She said, “We’re burning Old Man Gloom, and while we’re at it, we get to eat everything we’d never eat the rest of the year.” We got Hostess Twinkees, Hershey’s kisses, Twizzlers, Ritz crackers, and that stuff that comes in a can that we affectionally called Spray Cheese (maybe that’s the name). The little boys were treated to sparkling grape juice, but no alcohol for us since we had to be moms and slightly responsible.

And then we parked downtown and walked up Bishop’s Lodge Trail to the party, along with hundreds of our closest friends. We had first stopped at the Santa Fe Sutin offices, where they had the afternoon off. I learned that it’s a Santa Fe tradition – no one works the afternoon before Zozobra.

We stood in the park and watched the ghost dancers and listened to the mariachis and prayed for the wind to die. Friends stopped by to visit. Someone passed a bottle of tequila. The atmosphere was friendly, local, and merry. All our past worries from the year prior were about to go up in smoke. Will Shuster’s (one of Santa Fe’s Los Cinco Pintores) dark and eerie creation from the 1920s stood before us, ready for someone to set a flame.

I’ve been several times since, but nothing quite compares to that first surprising visit to watch the burning of Zozobra. When folks from elsewhere ask me to explain the tradition, I just say it’s an evening where you get to stand in a field with lot of other crazies, all of you chanting “Burn him, burn him, burn him,” for what feels like hours before Zozobra goes up in smoke. It’s our own local cleansing ritual. And traditionally the opening of Fiestas de Santa Fe.

Zozobra is a papier mache marionette standing over 50 feet tall these days, but when Shuster and his friends first burnt him, he was a mere six feet and the burning was in someone’s backyard.

And maybe the best way to explain him is in the words directly from the website, which says after Shuster’s initial event:

“Over the years, it grew in both size and significance, until Will handed over all rights to the Kiwanis Club in 1964. It now welcomes visitors from around the globe to participate in a community service event that benefits children through grants and educational activities.

According to official lore, the doom-and-gloom specter is recreated annually to restore balance to the city and its residents. In order to lure Zozobra out of hiding, the city leaders invite him to a party he believes is being held in his honor. With his enormous ego urging him on, Zozobra accepts the invitation, recognizing it as his best opportunity to invade the heart of town, destroy all happiness and rob the city of its most precious possession: hope.

Eager to embark upon his sinister plans, the account continues, Zozobra becomes disgruntled as he’s kept waiting, so he casts a spell over the children of anta Fe, turning them into his minions, the Gloomies. When Zozobra realizes he’s been duped, he lets loose the Gloomies to wreak havoc on the city, but before they can begin, a group of brave townsfolk arrive bearing torches, and call forth the Fire Spirit to vanquish him. The Gloomies are released from their trance, the crowd dances joyfully as Zozobra collapses into a smoking pile of embers, and all is well in the world again for another year.”

Fast forward to this week. Zozo’s burning will take place this Friday night in Ft. Marcy Park. It’s a great way to join in a traditional Santa Fe event. I’ll be elsewhere this year, but my fear of missing out still makes me long for those days on that blanket, full on Twinkees and Twizzlers, chanting with everyone else, “Burn him, burn him, burn him.”

You just can’t be gloomy when you’ve see your chants become reality!

Bunny Terry 505.504.1101

20 Vereda Serena Santa Fe, NM 87508