Every fall, Santa Fe has a tradition that goes hand-in-hand with its Fiesta. Thursday night, Zozobra burned.
Now, before you get concerned about puppet brutality, let me explain that the 50-foot marionette is constructed for the express purpose of being set on fire. It’s a roast, in the most literal sense. As the monstrous figure ignites, he’s supposed to take all your cares and worries of the past year away with him.
An ancient Spanish tradition? Not really. Although the Fiestas de Santa Fe has roots that go back to the year 1692 when the Spanish peacefully reclaimed the city from the Pueblos, the Zozobra tradition was started in 1924 by artist William Howard Shuster, Jr. and it has been carried on in more recent times by the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe.
For weeks leading up to the event, people can drop off slips of paper with details of personal gloom—or even certain legal papers—at the offices of the Santa Fe Reporter. These items are stuffed inside the giant effigy along with liberal amounts of shredded newspaper. They can then join the crowd of 40,000 to celebrate on the second Thursday evening in September in the banishment of doom and gloom.
It's quite a ritual. First the music starts and then the Fire Dancers come to perform a bizarre ballet around the monster's feet. Then amid fireworks, cheers and jeers, Zozobra moans, groans, rolls his eyes, waves his arms, and incinerates. This marks the start of the three day Fiestas de Santa Fe.
I think writers should have their own version of the burning of Zozobra, don’t you? Imagine collecting a stockpile of unsalvageable manuscripts, rejection letters, errant contest score sheets, misguided bad reviews, and other gloom-laced paperwork and having a bonfire of epic proportions to banish our cares.
Hmmm, what would we call our gloom-banishing celebration? What items would you stuff inside our literary Zozobra?