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The 50-foot-high marionette of Zozobra burns in an annual ritual in Santa Fe.
The 50-foot-high marionette of Zozobra burns in an annual ritual in Santa Fe.Photo courtesy of Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe

Do you dream of sending your troubles up in flames? That’s what the folks in Santa Fe have been doing since Will Shuster and his bohemian artist buddies created the figure of Zozobra in 1924. Translated from Spanish as “the gloomy one,” Zozobra is actually a 50-foot-tall marionette. He is stuffed with all the “glooms” of the previous year that Santa Fesinos want to banish through a cleansing by fire. This year Santa Fe is inviting the world to join in by sending their glooms electronically to the Zozobra website.

“If there was ever a year for the Burning of Zozobra,” says event chair Ray Sandoval, “this is it. The whole world needs the opportunity to get rid of this gloom.”

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Zozobra usually bursts with bad report cards, pink slips, parking tickets, divorce papers, photos of cheating spouses, and other more personal grievances and shortcomings. In the unlikely event that your glooms don’t leap to mind, Sandoval suggests that first-timers ask themselves a few questions. “What am I doing to cause gloom to myself? What am I doing to cause gloom in others? What do I want to let go of? How do I want to change?” Your glooms will be printed out and stuffed into the Zozobra figure. Glooms start at $1, with proceeds benefiting local charities. Think of it as doing good while banishing evil.

Santa Fesinos so depend on this healing ritual that the Burning of Zozobra has taken place every year since that first rather ad hoc event. Last year, 64,000 people gathered in Fort Marcy Park not far from the main plaza, but there will be no crowds for 2020. Instead, the spectacle will be broadcast live on the local ABC affiliate and streamed for free to anyone seeking a fresh start.

The 50-foot-high marionette of Zozobra burns in an annual ritual in Santa Fe.
The 50-foot-high marionette of Zozobra burns in an annual ritual in Santa Fe.Photo courtesy of Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe

According to tradition, Zozobra always arrives in town dressed for a party. He likes to change up his look, so this year he’ll sport coronavirus hair and killer hornet cufflinks. But he won’t be wearing a mask, because, says Sandoval, “He’s a grumpy spirit who doesn’t listen to anyone.”

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Children are soon drawn under Zozobra’s evil spell and must be rescued by torch-carrying townsfolk. But that’s not enough to deter Zozobra. The folks of Santa Fe must channel their collective goodwill to summon Zozobra’s foe, the Fire Spirit. Five feet tall and bursting with energy, the Fire Spirit torments and taunts Zozobra until fireworks flash from the monster’s mouth and eyes. Finally the Fire Spirit triumphs and sets Zozobra ablaze.

“When Zozobra burns and crashes to the ground, we have overcome gloom,” says Sandoval. And the grand fireworks finale begins.

Feeling better already? Gloom contributors will also receive a Certificate of Destruction signed by the Fire Spirit.

For more information and to submit your glooms, see burnzozobra.com. Burning of Zozobra will be streamed for free at www.koat.com beginning at 10 p.m. EDT on Sept. 4.

Patricia Harris can be reached at harrislyon@gmail.com.


Patricia Harris can be reached at harrislyon@gmail.com.