"BURN HIM! BURN HIM!” The ceremonies at last year’s 98th Burning of Zozobra had been delayed to permit the record crowd of 71,000 to finish making its way into Santa Fe’s Fort Marcy Park, and the revelers were becoming restless.
We’d come early to get the full experience, setting up our picnic blanket about midway back on the ball field with a good view of Old Man Gloom and the carnival that comes with the 50-foot-high marionette’s demise. Kids frolicked around us with light-up spinners and plastic toys. In keeping with the 1990s theme, a group of high schoolers wandered by in throwback T-shirts featuring Rugrats and Saved by the Bell. Beach balls floated above the fray. All around, people danced to Britney Spears, TLC, Shania Twain, R.E.M, ’NSync, and Nirvana.
Zozobra has quickly become one of my favorite traditions since arriving in the City Different. I love how it began with Will Shuster and a bunch of his artist pals for a backyard party; how even when Shuster tried to give over his creation to others, it kept pulling him back, like in some kind of horror movie; how Jacob Romero still uses Shuster’s blueprints to construct the monstrous puppet; and how the drama plays out with the valiant Fire Dancer, the groovy Gloomies, and the growling Zozobra as he struggles against fate.
I was hooked even before getting to see Zozobra in person. Somehow, even the televised version in 2020 found a way to bring people together and cast off our collective pandemic fears, troubles, and glooms in spectacular fashion.
Record attendance in the past two years has demonstrated just how important and cathartic Zozobra is for many of us. This month, Julia Goldberg’s “Burn, Zozobra, Burn” takes us into the belly of the beast—and all the glooms it contains—for a better understanding of the rite. “It’s an extremely personal experience. You know what you put inside Zozobra that you want to burn,” says event chairman Ray Sandoval. “You’re part of a big community and feel as if you’re connected to other human beings.”
This year, as the chants begin, the fireworks boom overhead, and the flames engulf Old Man Gloom, I’ll be thankful to let go of my troubles in a community I love.