Each year in Santa Fe, Zozobra is burned. Let’s explore the history of this event that has been celebrated in The City Different for almost 100 years.
THE ORIGIN OF ZOZOBRA’S BLAZING RITUAL
The captivating spectacle known as the Burning of Zozobra owes its creation to visionary artist Will “Shus” Shuster. Born in 1893, Shus hailed from Pennsylvania and had experienced the horrors of World War I, surviving a gas attack by the Germans. Returning home, he was given a grim prognosis from his doctor: only a few months left to live, or a chance to extend his life out West. Opting for the latter, he settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and defied the odds by living another 45 years.
In Santa Fe, Shus joined the group “Los Cinco Pintores,” or the five painters, a creative collective that contributed to transforming the city into the thriving art colony it is today. Their bond was so close that they supported each other financially — when one sold a painting, they all shared the success until another made a sale.
It all began on Christmas Eve in 1923 when Shus sold a painting he had toiled over for five months. Eager to celebrate, he urged his friends to join him for a tequila-filled Christmas Eve dinner at the newly opened La Fonda, brushing off any worries about the future. But to his surprise, his friends seemed downcast. In response, Shus handed each of them a piece of paper and instructed them to write down their troubles. He then ignited the slips with a candle, and they were asked to leave. Laughing together on the curb, the seeds of symbolically burning away one’s woes were sown.
A few months later, in April of 1923, Shus witnessed a Good Friday procession in Mexico where a five-foot effigy of Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, was paraded through the streets and scorned by the crowd. These two experiences merged in Shus’ mind, giving birth to Zozobra.
Shuster also envisioned a powerful mythology surrounding Zozobra, intending to hold the celebration during the fall, coinciding with Santa Fe Fiesta. Fall, a symbol of renewal in many cultures and religions, perfectly encapsulated the essence of the event — starting anew by shedding the negative energy from the past.
Thus, Zozobra became the embodiment of humanity’s negative energy, and Old Man Gloom, as the locals dubbed him, would be invited to Santa Fe Fiesta as the guest of honor. But the twist lay in the celebration’s purpose — not to honor Old Man Gloom, but to vanquish him with the overwhelmingly positive energy radiated by the crowd. This energy manifested into a Fire Spirit, harnessing it to create a mesmerizing display of fireworks and a fiery waterfall.
The event evolved into a grand celebration featuring music, food, and entertainment, all centered around the imposing figure of Zozobra.
THE SPECTER OF ZOZOBRA
Zozobra, often referred to as Old Man Gloom, stands tall as a specter or effigy, symbolizing the negative energy humans project into the world. He embodies the very essence of gloom.
THE ORIGINS OF THE NAME ZOZOBRA
Various monikers accompany Zozobra, including Old Man Gloom, Old Man Groucher, King of Gloom, and New Mexico’s Boogieman. The choice of the name “Zozobra” stemmed from Shus’ desire for a non-English name. Consulting a Spanish/English dictionary, Shus and a friend found “zozobra,” a word that translates to “gloom,” “anxiety,” and “being shipwrecked.” The rest is history!
PARTICIPATING IN ZOZOBRA’S BURNING RITUAL
Numerous ways exist for folks to send their glooms into Zozobra to be burned away. On the event day, a designated tent houses the “gloom box” where people can inscribe their glooms on pieces of paper, which are later placed inside the effigy. Gloom boxes are also dispersed throughout Santa Fe, allowing locals to drop off their glooms in the months leading up to the event.
Additionally, ZozoFest, held before the Burning of Zozobra, allows visitors to stuff their glooms into the effigy themselves, a cherished and emotional experience for many. For those unable to attend, an online submission option was introduced during the pandemic, enabling people to donate $1 for each gloom submission. The online glooms are printed out and added to Zozobra, and participants receive a Certificate of Destruction signed by the Fire Spirit as confirmation.
Fun Fact: Gloom submissions transcend mere pieces of paper, with visitors in the past contributing items like hospital gowns, wedding dresses, photo albums, and mortgage papers — anything that holds negative energy and needs to be purged.
THE ORGANIZERS BEHIND ZOZOBRA
The Burning of Zozobra is brought to life each year by the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe.
THE MISSION OF KIWANIS CLUB OF SANTA FE
The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe dedicates its efforts to supporting charities and nonprofit organizations focused on assisting underprivileged children. The event serves as the main annual service project, enabling the club to aid children in need within New Mexico. Part of the funds raised also goes toward Kiwanis International’s Project Eliminate, which provides neo-natal tetanus shots to pregnant women in impoverished countries. So far, more than 60,000 pregnant women in such countries have received tetanus shots through Kiwanis’ efforts. YouthWorks, Girls Inc. of Santa Fe, and other charities dedicated to children’s welfare also benefit from the club’s support.
WHEN AND WHERE ZOZOBRA TAKES CENTER STAGE
Traditionally, Zozobra ignites the Friday before Labor Day, enchanting the audience at Fort Marcy Park during Santa Fe Fiesta week. This year it takes place Friday, September 1, 2023. Get all the details here.
RAISING FUNDS THROUGH ZOZOBRA
Ticket sales constitute the primary source of funds during the event, alongside purchases of T-shirts and posters. The profits generated support grants for organizations focused on assisting children in need. General admission tickets cost $20, with a $5 discount for New Mexico residents. Premium viewing areas are available at prices ranging from $75 to $300, varying by location. Children aged 10 and below enter for free. Additionally, the $1 online gloom submissions contribute to the overall funds, providing a way for those unable to attend to take part. Donations are also welcome from those who wish to support the cause even if they can’t attend the event. Click here to learn how you can donate to Help Zozobra Help Kids!
Learn about the 2023 ticket options here . . . and don’t wait too long to get yours!
THE EVOLUTION OF ZOZOBRA’S CREATION
Will Shuster, the visionary behind Zozobra, originally fashioned the first effigy standing at six feet tall. Today, artists still utilize Shus’ original blueprints, but Zozobra has grown to an impressive 50 feet. His head is a meticulously arranged assembly of various geometric shapes, providing a human-like appearance. Since different artists craft Zozobra from scratch each year, he takes on a unique look annually, never a carbon copy of past versions.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR LOCAL ARTISTS
Local artists can actively participate by engaging in the adult and youth poster and T-shirt contests held annually. The winning designs grace the event, contributing to its distinct visual identity. Learn more about submitting your art here.
BURN, ZOZOBRA, BURN!
The Fire Spirit, channeling the crowd’s positive energy, uses Zozobra’s nemesis against him: fire! Shus aimed to take participants on an emotional journey, envisioning fireworks illuminating the night sky, weakening Zozobra’s strength.
Burning Zozobra adheres to a checklist, featuring the spectacular waterfall of fire, a crown of fireworks, and even meticulous details like Zozobra’s fiery hair — shredded paper held in place by wire. As the fireworks ignite the hair, it cascades down, igniting the rest of the effigy. Zozobra even boasts a flare in his mouth, producing a mesmerizing breathing fire effect.
WHAT TO DO AFTER ZOZOBRA BURNS
Beyond the burning ritual, the Decades Project adds another layer of excitement. This is the last year to feature themes from the Decades Project, and once Zozobra succumbs to flames and the lights illuminate the night, the celebration transitions into a themed extravaganza. Music, food, and entertainment abound, creating a truly unforgettable experience.
Learn more about the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe’s Decades Project here.
TIPS FOR FIRST-TIME ATTENDEES
With more than 60,000 attendees each year, parking can be a challenge. One helpful hint is to take advantage of the parking at South Capitol and utilize the free shuttle service to and from Fort Marcy Park. Security is provided at South Capitol which helps ensure property safety. For those traveling from Albuquerque, riding the Rail Runner Express Train provides a convenient option.
Find more first-timer tips here.
APPRECIATING THE SPONSORS
The success of Zozobra owes much to its sponsors’ generous support, including Hutton Broadcasting, Century Bank, and Del Norte Credit Union. Their continued contributions help make this captivating event possible year after year. Learn more at burnzozobra.com/fundraising and on The Official Burning of Zozobra Facebook page.
Posted by LasCruces.com