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Aug 19

The Burning of Zozobra: Myth and History

Posted on August 19, 2021 at 12:00 AM by Riann Martinez

The Burning of ZozobraThe Burning of Zozobra is a totally unique cultural event staged annually by the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe on the Friday of Labor Day weekend. The burning serves as an exciting and fiery finale to the last days of summer. This year, the 97th Burning of Zozobra will take place on September 3rd at Ft. Marcy Park in Santa Fe. Purchase admission tickets, donation tickets, and a multitude of merchandise online at burnzozobra.com.

What and Who Exactly is Zozobra? 

Based on historical facts and nearly 100 years of storytelling and embellishment, here’s how writer Isabel Zermani described the myth of Zozobra in a video for Meow Wolf, the Santa Fe immersive art experience.

Burning of Zozobra in Santa FeZozobra is a monster. Make no mistake about it. He stays in hiding all year long, feeding on and gaining power from our failings, misdeeds and sadness. But at the end of each Summer, we get a chance to cast out the darkness. We lure Zozobra into a trap. We invite him to the Fiesta de Santa Fe. He comes to the party dressed to impress, but he has his own wicked agenda. To rob the City Different of its hope and spirit. As the party begins, Zozobra seizes the opportunity to enact his evil plan. He casts a spell on the children, turning them into an army of Gloomies. But the torch- bearing townspeople fight back. Recapturing the hearts and minds of the children. Zozobra rages, the people flee and hope is scarce. “Burn him” they cry. This summons the Fire Spirit, mortal enemy to Zozobra. And the dance begins. She holds a torch to Zozobra, setting him alight. Victory belongs to the Fire Spirit who restores Santa Fe’s hope and goodwill. But Zozobra will rise again next year, as our human faults and failings return. Inevitably, like weeds to a garden.

What’s the Real Story of Zozobra?  

Well, it all started 97 years ago. 

The Burning of Zozobra is the creation of Will Shuster, one of the Los Cinco Pintores, a group of artists who made their way to New Mexico in the 1920s. Shuster created the first Zozobra in 1924 as the signature highlight of a private party for artists and writers in the Santa Fe area. He was inspired by the Holy Week celebrations of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico, in which an effigy of Judas, filled with firecrackers, is led around the village on a donkey. And ultimately set ablaze. 

Shuster and his friend, E. Dana Johnson, editor of the local newspaper, came up with the name Zozobra, which in Spanish means anguish, anxiety and gloom. Shuster’s creation first burned in his backyard in 1924 as a 6-foot effigy and over the years has grown to a towering 50-foot high marionette made of wood, wire and cotton cloth and stuffed with hundreds of bags of shredded paper. 

More on the Myth

To find out more about the myth and history of The Burning of Zozobra, visit burnzozobra.com/about/history

Burning of Zozobra in Santa FeJoin the Party

See the burning in person on September 3rd at Ft. Marcy Park in Santa Fe. 

If you can’t make it in person, Zozobra organizers ask that you go to burnzozobra.com/shop and purchase a donation ticket. Donation tickets and merchandise purchases will help keep this iconic event alive and help the Kiwanis Club mission of funding youth programs and improving the world one child and one community at a time.


Guest blog provided by Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe.