From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Zozobra burning in 2005
BeginsAround the end of August and start of September
VenueFort Marcy (New Mexico)
Location(s)Santa Fe, New Mexico
FounderWill Shuster
Organised byKiwanis

Zozobra (also known as Old Man Gloom and sometimes branded as Will Shuster's Zozobra) is a giant marionette effigy constructed of wood, wire and cotton cloth that is built and burned on the Friday of Labor Day weekend prior to the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States. It stands 50 ft. 6 in. high.

The name is a Spanish word that refers to a strong feeling of anxiety or worries, and as its name suggests, the effigy embodies gloom and anxiety; by burning it, people destroy the worries and troubles of the previous year in the flames.[1] Anyone with an excess of gloom is encouraged to write down the nature of their gloom on a slip of paper and leave it in the "gloom box" found in City of Santa Fe Visitors' Centers in the weeks leading up to the burn. Participants are also welcome to add their glooms at the annual ZozoFest, a festive precursor event that takes place the weekend before Zozobra burns. Those who attend the burning can also add documents at the venue on the day of the burning, up until 8 pm MT, at a "gloom tent," where they can add their woes to the marionette's stuffing. Legal papers, divorce documents, mortgage pay-offs, parking tickets, a Martin guitar and even a wedding dress –– have all found their way into Zozobra to go up in smoke.[citation needed] At the festival, glooms from the gloom box are placed inside Zozobra to be burned alongside it.


Fiestas de Santa Fe has been held since 1712 to celebrate the Spanish reconquest of the city in 1692 by Don Diego de Vargas from the Pueblo tribes who had occupied the city since the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The burning of Zozobra dates from 1924, when artist William Howard Shuster, Jr. created and then burned the first Zozobra in his backyard at a party for his friends and fellow artists.[2] "Zozobra" is a Spanish word for anxiety, worry, or sinking and was chosen by Shuster and newspaper editor E. Dana Johnson after a trip they made to Mexico. It is said that the idea was influenced by Mexican cartonería (papier-mâché sculpture), specifically the effigies exploded during the burning of Judas that takes place on Holy Saturday or New Year's Eve, as a way of ridding oneself or one's community of evil.[citation needed]

Modern celebration[edit]

Zozobra starting to burn

Each year in Santa Fe New Mexico, over 60,000 people attend the event and hundreds of thousands watch online. The Labor Day Friday Burning of Zozobra is followed by a festive arts and crafts fair that launches the Santa Fe Fiesta over the Labor Day weekend. The following weekend welcomes the Santa Fe Fiesta Desfile de Los Niños, the Children's Pet Parade, on Saturday, the Hysterical-Historical Parade on Sunday, and a traditional mass at St. Francis Cathedral.

Since receiving all rights to the Zozobra pageant in 1964 from creator Will Shuster, the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe has built Zozobra and burned the effigy at Fort Marcy Park. The Zozobra that burned on September 7, 2007, was certified by Guinness World Records as the largest marionette in the world, at the time measuring 15.21 m (49 ft 10.82 in) in height.[3]

The Burning of Zozobra was traditionally held in September, however, attendance at the event improved in 2014 when it was moved to the Friday immediately before Labor Day.[4]

Event description[edit]

Event gates open at 4 pm and live entertainment leads up to the official pageant that begins at 7 pm, featuring live music, performances, a beachball toss and a performance of America's National Anthem. Lights-out music signals the start of the ritual tradition, and the annual drama begins in earnest. Zozobra begins to move, looking side to side and calling out his "Gloomies," a group of youthful dancer symbolizing the children of Santa Fe, whom Zozobra has converted into his minions by clouding their minds and robbing them of their hope and happiness. A group of torchbearers arrives, representing brave townsfolk who come to fight Zozobra's dark intentions to destroy the city's future. Zozobra's force is great and his Gloomies frighten away the torchbearers, who drop their flaming torches and scatter. Zozobra and his Gloomie celebrate but the watching crowd is energized and begins to chant "burn him, burn him." Summoned by this urgent call for help, The Fire Spirit materializes, dressed in red with a headdress, symbolizing Old Man Gloom's arch enemy.[5] and representing goodness and light called forth to destroy the gloom and bad energy of the year. The Fire Spirit chases away the Glooomies and dances in a battle with Zozobra, whose arms and head move as he growls and groans.[6] Zozobra becomes incensed when the Fire Spirit takes up a pair of flaming torches to taunt him with the possibility of destruction.The struggle between light and darkness is finally consummated when the marionette is set alight by a series of internal fireworks and finally collapses, amidst a massive display of fireworks overhead, said to be creator Shuster's way of painting the sky. As the last of Zozobra smolders in a pile of glowing embers, the watching crowd joyously celebrates the victory of light over darkness.

List of Zozobra-burning events[edit]

2007 Zozobra with red hair

The color of his hair changes each year.[citation needed]

  • September 10, 2004 — orange[7]
  • September 6, 2007 — red
  • September 4, 2008 — green[8]
  • September 10, 2009 — orange[9]
  • September 9, 2010 — blue[10]
  • September 8, 2011 — purple[11]
  • September 6, 2012 — yellow[12]
  • September 5, 2013 — green[13]
  • August 29, 2014 — neon yellow
  • September 4, 2015 — gray[14]
  • September 2, 2016 — black[a][15]
  • September 1, 2017 — orange-red
  • August 31, 2018 — gray
  • August 30, 2019 — mustard-yellow
  • September 4, 2020 — COVID-Zozobra had silver hair with red triangles and orange ping-pong balls to represent the coronavirus. His buttons read "2020" and he wore gold murder hornet cufflinks.[16]
  • September 3, 2021 — white
  • September 3, 2022 — copper
  • September 1, 2023 — turquoise hair and a black cloak


See also[edit]


  1. ^ with black-and-white fedora, after Santa Fean boy Seth Cole suggested at the annual community meeting that Zozobra should wear a hat


  1. ^ "Old Man Gloom, sorrows up in smoke". United Press International. September 7, 2007. Retrieved 27 August 2011.
  2. ^ Dances with ink: Gustave Baumann and his studio, Tom Leech, El Palacio 2009 vol. 114 no. 4 pp. 32-37.
  3. ^ http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/1000/largest-puppetmarionette Guinness World Records Entry for Largest puppet/marionette
  4. ^ "Zozobra organizers see spike in early ticket sales - The Santa Fe New Mexican: Local News". santafenewmexican.com. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  5. ^ "The burning of Will Shuster's Zozobra". Burn Zozobra.
  6. ^ "Join Thousands As We Burn Away Zozobra's Hold on Gloom". SantaFe.org. 2017.
  7. ^ "Image: zozobra_2004_photo_by_lisa_law.jpg, (225 × 300 px)". burnzozobra.com. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  8. ^ "Image: zozobra-2008-kabeyta1.jpg, (700 × 525 px)". burnzozobra.com. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  9. ^ "Image: zozobra-2009-kabeyta2.jpg, (525 × 700 px)". burnzozobra.com. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  10. ^ "Image: zozobra_2010_photo_by_lisa_law.jpg, (1952 × 3264 px)". burnzozobra.com. 9 September 2010. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  11. ^ "Image: zozobra_2011_photo1_by_lisa_law.jpg, (482 × 365 px)". burnzozobra.com. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  12. ^ "News photos and pictures from the Albuquerque Journal". abqjournal.com. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  13. ^ "Adventure Nickel: Zozobra". egad-ybnormal.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  14. ^ "Burn Zozobra Main Page". Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  15. ^ "Zozobra revisits 'very dark time'". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved December 18, 2016.
  16. ^ Davis, Charles. "New Mexico's Zozobra 2020: Burning gloom away in the age of COVID-19". Insider. Retrieved 2021-08-10.
  • Zozobra: The Story of Old Man Gloom, Jennifer Owings Dewey; photographed by Jeanie Pulsen Fleming, Santa Fe: University of New Mexico Press, 2004

External links[edit]