Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

Zozobra is Toast Tonight!

It gives me great pleasure to announce that tonight all of your troubles are going to burn away in one glorious blaze! Isn’t that good news? Tonight Santa Fe burns in effigy Zozobra, a 50 foot tall marionette made of wood and cloth with big red lips and nasty green flaming eyes. Zozobra, otherwise known as Old Man Gloom, and your hardships will be toast by 11 pm Mountain Time.

A few factoids: Zozobra was originally created by Santa Fe artist Will Shuster in 1924. Santa Feans have been burning him every year since.  Zozobra’s frame is created out of sticks, covered in chicken wire and stuffed with a whole lot of shredded paper. In the weeks preceding the event, people are invited to write down their troubles which are then shredded for use as the stuffing  along with old police reports, personal papers and old documents. Zozobra is then covered in cloth.

At dusk small fires are lit to surround Old Man Gloom. “Glooms,” played by children dressed in white, surround the base of Zozobra. Then with great fanfare the official Fire Spirit Dancer dressed in red tights and a cape appears at the top of the stage and dramatically swoops down to scare  away the Glooms. The dance between the Fire Spirit Dancer and the Glooms continues for quite some time as excitement builds and the crowd, which can be upwards of 30,000 people, gets all fired up so to speak, and yells, “BURN HIM! BURN HIM!”

Finally before the crowd takes matters into its own hands, the Fire Spirit Dancer sets Zozobra on fire. As the flames burn his white coat and rise higher and higher, Zozobra moans and groans and growls. His arms sway back and forth. He rolls his eyes and he twists his head as his mouth hangs open. I have to say the moaning is disconcerting. Zozobra is one hurting puppet. Finally Old Man Gloom is a pile of ashes and your worries and mine are a bad memory. Given the hardships people are experiencing, this should be one big damn bonfire. I hope Friday is a better day for us all.

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