Burn baby, burn: Santa Fe’s annual Burning of Zozobra

The Burning of Zozobra has been taking place in Santa Fe for 89 years. They burn him every year and like the Phoenix rising from the dead, he comes back the next only to be burned again. The 2012 Burning of Zozobra takes place on Thursday, September 5th from 6 to 9pm. Gates open at 3pm, entertainment starts at 3:30pm.  The burning, wind and weather permitting will take place around 8:15pm (it has been delayed in the past). Admission is $10 for adults, children under 12 are admitted free.

Zozobra, aka Old Man Gloom, is a fifty-foot high puppet made from sticks, chicken wire and cloth. The tradition of the Burning of Zozobra, started by artist Will Shuster (one of Santa Fe’s Los Cinco Pintores) in 1924, caught on like a house on fire. The giant puppet’s demise symbolizes the burning of the past year’s woes. The Burning of Zozobra became the traditional, but unofficial kick-off to the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe in 1926.

Burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe, photo Leslie Alsheimer

Burning of Zozobra, at the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe photo/Leslie Alsheimer courtesy of Santa Fe Kiwanis

The original Old Man Gloom debuted at a private party. Shuster’s friends, architect Kate Chapman and artist Dorothy Stewart, had an idea. They wanted to do something similar to Philadelphia’s Mummer’s parade. In Shuster’s hands, this idea morphed into a puppet effigy based on Yaqui Indian tradition. The tribe would build a straw effigy of Judas during Holy Week, put it on a donkey, lead it around the Stations of the Cross and then burn it. The name Zozobra was thought up by Santa Fe New Mexican editor Dana Johnson. Zozobra means worry or anxiety in Spanish. Renowned puppeteer, Gustave Baumann made the head of the first effigy. Shuster constructed the giant puppet every year until 1963. The following year he turned the Burning of Zozobra over to the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe who carries on the annual tradition.

Advance tickets for the Burning of Zozobra can be bought at the STate Employees Credit Union through August 31st. They’re are cheaper than paying at the door.

Write your woes on a piece of paper and add them to the gloom box located near the stage so that they can be put inside Zozobra and burned. You can even bring divorce papers or photos of people you want out of your life and send them up in smoke. If you can’t be there in person, you cam still get rid of your woes.  If you want to see the old man burn in person and can’t make it this year, don’t worry; he’ll go up in smoke same time next year.

Will you be putting your worries into Old Man Gloom at this year’s Burning of Zozobra?



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3 Responses to “Burn baby, burn: Santa Fe’s annual Burning of Zozobra”

  1. barb c.
    June 1, 2019 at 7:39 pm #

    i am looking foward to this years 2012 burning event of zozobra i havent seen the event since i was a kid i will be traveling from harrisburg pennsylavina and i will be taking a friend that has never seen zozobra before i have always Loved santa fe, new mexico we are very excited about going to the fiestas that take place after the burning well we will see you all there and we cant wait to eat green chili enchiladas …

    • Billie Frank
      June 2, 2019 at 6:08 am #

      The Burning of Zozobra is one of the most popular events with locals. Everyone gets into the spirit. Keep reading Santa Fe Travelers for helpful Santa Fe info. If you need trip planning or tours while you are here, check out The Santa Fe Traveler- http://www.santafetravler. Enjoy your visit!

  2. City of Santa Fe
    September 4, 2019 at 2:33 pm #

    We’re excited to see what color Old Man Gloom’s hair is this year and we can’t wait to listen to him moan as all of our woes are burned along with him. Hope to see everyone there!

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