Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Burning of Zozobra

Old Man Gloom a.k.a. Zozobra burning at Fiestas de Santa Fe, September 8, 2005. Photo by Jeff Weiss

Did you wake up yesterday morning with a renewed feeling of hope? Did it feel like some burden had been lifted from your shoulders? Well, the people of Santa Fe would tell you that your relief came from the burning of Zozobra, on Thursday evening.

Every fall over 40,000 people go to Fort Marcy Park in Santa Fe to watch Zozobra, a 50-foot tall effigy (also called Old Man Gloom) burn. Zozobra's burning kicks off the Fiestas de Santa Fe, a three-day festival that started in 1712 and originally celebrated the retaking of the city, in 1692, by Don Diego de Vargas after the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. Zozobra, though, was a late-comer to the festival. His burning has been a part of the Fiestas for only 83 years - since his first appearance in 1924.

Zozobra is a giant, animated marionette that waves its arms and growls and moans all day before he is set afire. He is grotesque looking, as Old Man Gloom should be, I suppose. According to the tradition, as the flames devour Zozobra, they also devour all of the gloom of the preceding year, leaving everyone with a fresh outlook on life.

I've never gone to Old Man Gloom's burning. I saw him one year, and heard his mournful growls, while he was hanging and awaiting his fate, but didn't stay in Santa Fe for the evening festivities. This year I thought maybe I'd go up for it (a challenging picture-taking opportunity). But it turned out that Zozobra was torched on the same night as the Evening of the Arts, which I didn't want to miss.

In New Mexico's 300+ years of recorded history, a culture rich in Native American, Spanish, Mexican and Catholic influences has evolved. Zozobra is a prime example of this cultural potpourri. As fascinating as it is, and despite the festivities and the lore surrounding Zozobra, I wouldn't want to leave the impression that the burning of a 50-foot marionette, made of wood, cloth and paint, has any real power to dissipate gloom or renew life.

Oh, but wait . Here's the good news. There is a way that leads to such a new beginning: "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." Romans 6:4

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