04.09.2015 - 04.09.2015
He stands 50 feet tall, his eyes glow in a creepy shade of green, he moans and flails his arms back & and forth, and every year, the city of Santa Fe burns him to the ground as the kick-off to a major festivity.
Since I arrived in Santa Fe a few days ago, the whole town has been buzzing in excited anticipation of the 91st annual Burning of Zozobra, which is like New Year's Eve, meets Independence Day, with a Southwest flair. Whatever troubles you have, it all gets ceremoniously consumed by flames, literally, because attendees can add their divorce decrees, or other types of written records to be destroyed with Old Man Gloom.
Along with 30,000 other people, I walked up to Fort Marcy Park last night for the big event. It was 55 degrees and raining (appropriately gloomy weather), but the audience, including myself, brought jackets and umbrellas to keep warm and dry. After some pre-show entertainment, the stadium lights went down and the audience shouted "Burn him! Burn him!".
Holding an umbrella in my left hand and my camera in my right hand, I watched the giant puppet protest its impending fate, moving its limbs up and down, as lights, fireworks and fire danced around him. Then, he started glowing yellow from the head, and flames quickly spread across its body. It was quite stunning to see so much fire consume and so quickly change the shape of such a massive figure. As the last of Old Man Gloom dissipated, a spectacular display of fireworks enveloped the night sky as the audience cheered.
It was one of the coolest events I ever attended, and the timing could not be more perfect. I know and appreciate that I have many blessings in my life, but that said, I've also gone through the most difficult times of my life seven years ago and again in the past two years. I know I'm a resilient person anyway, but now I also have a fun, positive memory to associate with the act of letting go of the past and moving forward in life. Sometimes ceremonies can provide a helpful pathway to healing, a means to put the gloom to rest. (Literally, I don't think I can stay stressed or upset for very long from now on when I remember the time I watched a giant puppet burn up.)
If you are visiting Santa Fe in early September, the Burning of Zozobra is a must-do event. One tip: After the event ends, don't even try to leave immediately. There are only two narrow exit points from the field back towards the town center, and it is not worth getting in tight quarters with overly-anxious people just to get out a couple minutes earlier. Instead, find an open spot on the field, and enjoy the people watching. Seeing skater dudes slam dancing to Pharrell Williams' song "Happy" kept me plenty entertained. There's also carnival-like booths along the perimeters of the fence. When I finally walked back towards the Plaza with the tail end of the crowd, it also was amusing hearing various excited partyers shouting "Fiesta!", which illicited more drunken shouts and chants.
What a fun way to kick off my first full day of my current trip to Santa Fe! It's off to a great start!