September 6, 2011 at 2:10 PM

Old Man Gloom Meets “OMG!” for 87th Burning of Zozobra, Sept. 8

"If you happen to be walking by Santa Fe’s Fort Marcy Park at dusk on Thursday, Sept. 8, expect to hear 20,000 or so people chanting “Burn him! Burn him!" "

By Staci Golar

Culture Junkie

Staci Golar is a writer, artist and fan of the Welsh village name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrob-wllllantysiliogogogoch.

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If you happen to be walking by Santa Fe’s Fort Marcy Park at dusk on Thursday, Sept. 8, expect to hear 20,000 or so people chanting “Burn him! Burn him!” while a 50-foot tall marionette named Zozobra groans and writhes in the air, awaiting a most certain death by fire.

Out of town visitors reading this might be scratching their heads, muttering “huh?” And, while it may seem a little unusual for a small city in the U.S. to burn an effigy each fall, all in the name of chasing away “Old Man Gloom,” locals know the back-story. Every year since 1712 the Fiesta de Santa Fe has taken place in the City Different. In 1924, artist Will Shuster added Zozobra to the Fiesta happenings to make a humorous statement against what he thought was the over-commercialization of the traditional fiesta activities at the time. The ritual burning of Zozobra caught on, however, and some 40 years later Shuster handed it over to the Santa Fe Kiwanis Club. It has since grown to become the club’s biggest annual fundraiser, generating monies for scholarships, youth projects and camp fees for physically challenged children.

Event producer Ray Valdez strives to keep the 87-year-old Zozobra festivities fresh. “I always tell people who haven’t attended in a while that they’ve missed out on years of spectacular burns. When they learn about the new elements we add every year they’re always surprised and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were doing that!’” One particularly high-tech addition to this year’s spectacle is that of interactive, social media. Valdez said visitors will be able to tweet or text their gloomy thoughts to a number (publicized at the event) that will project in real-time on screens at Fort Marcy Park. Other new additions include a longer fireworks finale and new choreography during the pre-burning gloom and fire-dancer performance.

As usual, attendees are encouraged to come when the gates open at 3 p.m., not only to enjoy live music on the lawn, (which this year includes Test Tube Panda, Shona Slovakia, The Gordon Free Band and The Faculty), but also to get first dibs on the collectible 2011 Zozobra merchandise. Early arrival ensures access to the “gloom box,” as well. Here one can leave whatever it is they wish to be rid of in order to see it go up in smoke after it’s stuffed into Zozobra’s insides. In the past, gloom box items have included divorce decrees, hand-written notes, flammable mementos…basically anything that is not dangerous to burn.

So, whether you’re a first time attendee, a seasoned pro or fall somewhere in the middle, this year’s Zozobra promises to be filled with the quirky and irresistible components all have come to expect from such a uniquely “Santa Fe” event. “Zozobra is a group catharsis that involves ritual, ceremony and spirituality of all types,” Valdez notes. “It’s also primal. Everyone understands the need to burn away the boogeyman and here in Santa Fe, we have this way to put our anxiety and gloom behind us.”

What to Know for Zozo

  • Tickets may be purchased at all branches of the State Employees Credit Union in advance ($10 for adults and $3 for children 4 - 6 years old), or at the gate ($15 for adults and $5 for children) located at Fort Marcy Park, 490 Bishop’s Lodge Road, Santa Fe, up until the burn time on Sept. 8. Tickets may also be purchased online here.

  • Event parking is virtually non-existent. There are 40 handicap spaces on a first come, first serve basis but no other parking within a four-block radius. Most people walk to the event from downtown. For an event map that includes all roads will be closed the night of, click here.

  • Food can be brought into the venue or purchased from one of the several food vendors that will be on site. Glass containers and alcoholic beverages are not allowed. Bags will be searched upon entry.

  • Zozobra is a rain or shine event. Bring a rain poncho if in doubt.

  • Unless your dog is an assistance animal, keep Fido at home.

  • Small plastic and canvas camping style chairs are allowed, but Zozobra organizers request that no metal lawn chairs be brought in. Strollers are strongly discouraged, as well.

  • New this year, watch Zozobra streaming live here on SantaFe.com!

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