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Flaming Zozobra

The most anticipated event in the southwest is the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe, held the first weekend in September. For the past 300 years Santa Fe hosts a 3 day festival that began in 1712 to celebrate an expedition by Don Diego de Vargas, who re-conquered the territory of New Mexico.

Order obliging the citizens of Santa Fe to celebrate henceforth the 14th day of Sept. of each year as the anniversary of the re-conquest of the said Villa by Diego de Vargas.” Spanish Archives of New Mexico; Archive 179, Sept. 16, 1712.

The centerpiece of the celebration is the burning of 1600 pound, 50-foot giant monumental effigy, the Zozobra, created in 1924 by local Santa Fe artist William Howard Shuster. Inspired by the effigy, Judas, from Holy Week in Mexico, Shuster set out to create the Zozobra now holding a Guiness World Record. Judas was filled with firecrackers and paraded by donkey around town and ultimately set on fire. Zozobra, the gloomy one, is Shuster’s growling version, “[the] mischievous and hideous boogey man.”

Each year the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe stages the ceremonial burning of Zozobra. The ceremony opens with a speech persecuting Zozobra:

The time has come to consider the fate of Old Man Gloom.
Zozobra for being a mischievous and hideous 50-foot boogey man… Guilty!
For scaring our innocent children with your miserable growling… Guilty!
Zozobra big dog howling at the moon filling our dreams… Guilty!
Zozobra for upsetting our peaceful way of life with your dark gloominess… Guilty!
Zozobra for bringing sadness anxiety and gloom into our lives… You are guilty!
The Zozobra, Old Man Gloom, will be dispatched by the ceremony of fire. All that bear witness will be free of sadness and suffering. Let the darkness bring us light!

Immediately after the fiery sentence, elaborate tribal-styled dances and fire wielding performances begin. The effigy begins to growl as fireworks and nearby flames light up the darkness. And then... he burns.

Play: Zozobra Festival Watch on YouTube

The burning of Zozobra is a tradition that everyone should experience at one point in their lives. Whether you believe that it will cleanse and free you from your troubles or you just want to feel the excitement… you'll be sure to find yourself chanting “BURN HIM!!”

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