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