Zozobra

 

The cry of "Viva la Fiesta" has been reverberating through the streets of Santa Fe every autumn for 296 years. The sound generates a curious blend of thanksgiving, revelry and pride in the hearts of Santa Feans. Fiesta de Santa Fe is celebrated annually to commemorate Don Diego De Vargas' peaceful reoccupation of the “City of Holy Faith” in 1692, after a bloodless overthrow of the Indian occupation of Santa Fe, thanks in part to the “magical” influences of the La Conquistadora Madonna. Fiesta de Santa Fe became an official yearly event by proclamation in 1712. It is the oldest civic celebration of its kind in North America.

Every year, Fiestas begins with a Zozbra party at Nina's childhood home in downtown Santa Fe. Nina's mother Mary Gray used to host the party for her friends, but of late, Nina's sister Bethany has become the official host and the party consists of a healthy mix of young and old of all walks of life! Nina saw kids she used to babysit for that are now married with children!

The annual Zozobra party draws crowds of up to 80 people, who come for Frito Pie, Posole, Enchiladas and Chile... and a free parking space within walking distance of the park where Zozobra is celebrated. Nina has attended roughly 12 Fiestas throughout her life, but this was the first Fiestas in many years. Chris was a newcomer to the craziness of Fiestas!

Guests crowd into the kitchen, living room and front and back yards. Some years, guests have even been known to salsa dance in the living room and have guitar sing-alongs in the back yard.

The slightly drunken “pilgrimage” to Fort Marcy Park to attend the annual burning of Zozobra.

Crowds of revelers waiting to get into the park. Viva la Fiesta!

Nina and her family have attended dozens of Zozobras and consider Fiestas to be a Santa Fe tradition. But times have changed.... the Zozobra celebration grew so big and out of control it had to be moved to a weekday night and tickets are now limited.

Fiestas is a time to catch up with old friends and make new friends. Hundreds of locals and tourists crowd into the park to anxiously await the burning of “Old Man Gloom.”

Although the Fiestas celebration dates back to 1712, renowned Santa Fe artist Will Shuster added Zozobra to the festivities in 1924. Zozobra is a 50 foot bogeyman marionette, known as Old Man Gloom. Every year, the people of Santa Fe burn Zozobra to symbolize the fresh start to a new year. He is burnt amongst a blaze of fireworks taking with him all the troubles and gloom of the previous year. He moans and groans, rolls his eyes, flaps his jaw open and shut, twists his head and flails his arms in frustration and fear, while all around him people yell, “Burn Him!”

Nina and her little sister Juliette pose for a charming photo amongst the chaos and crowds of Zozobra. How cute!

Every year, Zozobra (who is made by hundreds of volunteers and Kiwanis members) is dressed in a tuxedo like dress and given bright colored hair. This year's hair color was bright green. Over the years, new technology and improvements have been added to Zozobra, including flashing red eyes.

This little boy, riding on his father's shoulders, was having a grand time yelling “Burn Him” and making the sign for Satan with his hands. Even though Nina has seen Zozobra more than a dozen times throughout her childhood, this year, seeing it for the first time in years, she actually got depressed and felt that the burning of this symbolic puppet was cruel, sad and inappropriate for children.

The fireworks have gotten more elaborate and high tech over the years. The fireworks kicked off the celebration and got the crowd roaring!

 

Zozobra's eyes glow red as the traditional “Gloomies” dance around in front of him. Every year, local school children and cub scouts dress up as ghosts and dance around in front of Zozobra.

The pre-show entertainment continues with fire dancers and other acrobatic performers. Each year, it seems that the pre-show entertainment gets more elaborate and longer, so as to fuel the crowd's impatience. By this time, the crowds starts to go nuts with anticipation and excitement.

At last, the bonfires are lit and the fireworks start to snake up the lines toward Zozobra's head. The crowd goes wild!

Sparks fly out of Zozobra's fingers as he flails his arms up and down. He moans and groans and shakes his head, while the crowd screams and cheers.

With a surprise turn of events... The sparks flying out of Zozobra's left hand, ignite the side of his dress as his arm passes by his side and Zozobra goes up in flames!! The crowd looses control!!

Zozobra goes up in flames along with the crowd's collective gloom and sadness for the past year.

 

As Zozobra burns completely to the ground, a chamisa bush on the hill catches on fire and becomes the surprise highlight of the evening! Although, the smell of burning chamisa is absolutely horrible! Que Viva La Fiesta!