NMCO was on the scene, anxious, waiting, cameras rolling. It began when the sun set. A thunderous laugh emerged through Fort Marcy Park. Darkness began to take over and Old Man Gloom, better known as Zozobra began to unleash his despair upon the world. Eery music played and he lured the children of Santa Fe, known as gloomies, to help him deliver his sinister doom. Before long the light erupted and Zozobra realized he’d been fooled. It was not a party in his honor, but a coax for the gloom he carried to be engulfed in flames.
Ignited by the fire spirit!
This tradition, known famously as Zozobra, has carried on since 1924. It all began with an artist from Pennsylvania, Will Shuster and a marionette. Part ghost, this boogeyman emerges from rebirth every year carrying the world’s stress and grief. New Mexicans have since partaken in a burning and release.
New Mexicans and spectators from around the world gather to celebrate this fiery cleanse from sadness and distress every year for Labor Day weekend. This year NMCO Media ventured to the heart of New Mexico to document the 96th annual burning of Zozobra, a year more important than ever for banishing gloom.
It was the first year since 1924 to not have a full crowd. Due to the New Mexico health orders and the Covid19 health crisis the event was restricted exclusively to media and the press. The ceremony would only be available through a live stream. NMCO was prepared and eager to help the ritual live on through your screen.
“As a born and raised New Mexican, I had always heard about Zozobra, but never made it up to Santa Fe to experience it. I can’t believe I was lucky enough to go to the press-only event with NMCO for my first time. The event was much more ceremonial than I had thought, and the dancers and fireworks were absolutely captivating. It was such a great experience to be there in person with the volunteers and fellow members of the press, all of us sporadically yelling ‘Burn him!’ as he met his fiery end. So much fun, and so much more personally meaningful than I thought it would be, ” said NMCO’s senior graphic designer Dana Apodaca.
Amidst an international health crisis that has caused economic despair, so much isolation and sadness the Santa Fe Kiwanis Club knew that Zozobra, this year, now more than ever, needed to be burned. “Zozobra is representing the Coranavirus this year. He’s got murderer hornet cufflinks and he’s got coronavirus hair,” said Ryan Miller, President of the Santa Fe Kiwanis Club. “Zozobra is always the gloom in the world and in New Mexico we want to burn that gloom and get rid of it,” Miller said.
What is gloom?
Normally, each year, people from New Mexico and around the world submit various documents by mail to be burned within Zozobra. Documents that represent sadness and melancholy. Old Man Gloom is stuffed with explosives and various confessions, regrets, messages, divorce papers, pay stubs, and even mortgages to be burned and banished.
This year, due to Covid 19 all gloom submissions were taken online by the official website for Zozobra and the response was massive. “He has more gloom in him, and he’s heavier with gloom this year than he has ever been because we have been accepting it online,” said Miller. “We had over 100,000 gloom submissions,” he said.
Australia, England, Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium, Norway, India, South Korea, Poland, Canada, Russia, Estonia, the Czech Republic and across the United States people submitted their gloom to be burned. That wasn’t the only thing unique to Zozobra this year. Prior to the dance of the fire spirit, performed by Helene Luna, healthcare workers carried torches to the 61.5 meters (53 feet) tall Zozobra in a dance of resistance.
It’s not all gloom and doom.
To even better expel gloom since 1964 the Santa Fe Kiwanis club uses funding from each year’s burning for youth programs and scholarships. “The funding every year goes to the Kiwanis Foundation with a separate board. They get proposals for youth and children’s programs across northern New Mexico and disperse funds based on impact in the community,” said Miller.
“I’m glad to have experienced it, it seemed so exclusive this year, and I hope to see it in its full glory next year, complete with people shouting ‘Burn him!’ It’s hard to believe this tradition has been going on for nearly a hundred years. Definitely a testament to the culture and heritage New Mexico brings,” said NMCO’s video specialist Ralph Diaz.
Older than burning man…
NMCO was honored to extend this unique event to your living room, supportive of youth and culture. Despite the restricted access free yourself from gloom, heal the emotional wounds of 2020 and check out NMCO’s animation and graphics of the event on our social media and Facebook. You can also download and share our poem graphic above.