Fiestas de Santa Fe: The Burning of Zozobra

by Sue on January 1, 2012

Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each year on the weekend after Labor Day, The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe stages the burning of Will Shuster’s Zozobra, kicking off the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe. Zozobra centers around the ritual burning in effigy of Old Man Gloom, or Zozobra, to dispel the hardships and travails of the past year.

The Fiestas celebration began in 1712 to celebrate an expedition by Don Diego de Vargas, who reconquered the territory of New Mexico. Zozobra became part of the Fiestas in 1926, and the Kiwanis club began sponsoring the burning in 1963 as its major fundraiser.

Local artist William Howard Shuster, Jr. – “Will” (1893-1969) conceived and created Zozobra in 1924 as the focus of a private fiesta at his home for artists and writers in the community. His inspiration for Zozobra came from the Holy Week celebrations of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico; an effigy of Judas, filled with firecrackers, was led around the village on a donkey and later burned. Shuster and E. Dana Johnson, a newspaper editor and friend of Shuster’s came up with the name Zozobra, which was defined as “anguish, anxiety, gloom” or in Spanish for “the gloomy one.”

Zozobra is a hideous but harmless fifty-foot bogeyman marionette. He is a toothless, empty-headed facade. He has no guts and doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He never wins. He moans and groans, rolls his eyes and twists his head. His mouth gapes and chomps. His arms flail about in frustration. Every year we do him in. We string him up and burn him down in ablaze of fireworks. At last, he is gone, taking with him all our troubles for another whole year. Santa Fe celebrates another victory. Viva la Fiesta! – A.W. Denninger

The burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico

The burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico

We know this crisp September evening in Santa Fe is going to be special as we look across at Old Man Gloom, Zozobra, in the large park where thousands of people are gathered and chanting “burn him, burn him”. The lights, music, fireworks, and sense of frenzied expectation make the experience unforgettable. When the moment finally arrives and Zozobra burns into smoldering ash, it is incredible. The idea is that people’s gloomy thoughts disappear – certainly in this dramatic moment that is true.

The oldest capital in the United States, Santa Fe is home to both ancient and modern cultures, Spanish churches, vibrant festivals, and adobe houses. Santa Fe Icons: 50 Symbols of the City Different is an entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes, and little known facts about fifty of the classic symbols that represent Santa Fe. From the Plaza to posole to Zozobra learn about the things that give Santa Fe its character.

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