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Zozobra in his final moments before burning, Santa Fe, 1999
"Zozobra," or "Old Man Gloom," in his final moments before burning, Santa Fe, 1999. Photo courtesy of Kim Kurianowicz

Zozobra (Festival)

Each year the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe stages the burning of Zozobra, kicking off the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe on the following Labor Day. Zozobra centers around the ritual burning in effigy of Old Man Gloom, or Zozobra, to dispel the hardships and travails of the past year. In 1999, Zozobra attracted 30,000 spectators to view the conflagration ritual and fireworks.

The Fiestas celebration began in 1712 to celebrate an expedition by Don Diego de Vargas, who reconquered the 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 Bud Schuster (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. A newspaper editor and friend of Schuster's came up with the name Zozobra, which is Spanish for "the gloomy one."

The effigy is a giant animated wooden puppet that waves its arms and growls ominously at the approach of its fate. A major highlight of the pageant is the fire spirit dancer, dressed in a flowing red costume, who appears at the top of the stage to drive away the white-sheeted "glooms" from the base of the giant Zozobra. The fire dance was created by Jacques Cartier, a former New York ballet dancer and local dance teacher, who performed the role for 37 years. His dance student, James Lilienthal took over the fire spirit role in 1970 and has continued it for 30 years.

Shuster constructed the figure of Zozobra until 1964, when he gave his detailed model to the Kiwanis Club to continue the tradition. Over the years the effigy has grown larger, reaching a height of 51 feet in 1999. Zozobra is a well crafted framework of preplanned and pre-cut sticks, covered with chicken wire and yards of muslin. It is stuffed with bushels of shredded paper, which traditionally includes obsolete police reports, paid off mortgage papers, and even personal divorce papers.

The festival is so popular that children arrive in the park in the morning to watch Zozobra's assembly. Spectators, who have paid a nominal fee to watch the event, continuously roar, "Burn him," until Zozobra is destroyed. Since 1952, the show has raised $275,525, which the Kiwanis has used to provide college scholarships, and camp fees for physically challenged children.

Project documentation comprises 30 color photographs, a 14-page report, and a two-page Kiwanis history.

Originally submitted by: Pete V. Domenici,Senator.



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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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