Santa Fe, N.M. is a city surrounded by strong culture and spiritual beliefs.
Every year, the people of New Mexico, as well as tourists from around the globe, gather together at Fort Marcy in Santa Fe to celebrate the burning of Old Man Gloom, or “Zozobra.” It’s a 90-year-old fiesta that allows people of this city to cleanse themselves of anything wrong or any unhappy events that took place in the past year.
“This festival is meant for our community to get together and support each other by getting rid of all the bad juju, events, or problems from the past year,” Calvin Leva, 23, from Santa Fe explained. “You can burn whatever you want; bad report cards, divorce papers, parking tickets. Anything that has been haunting you from the past year; this is the place to let it all go and have a fresh start.”
Weeks before the festival, there are places around the city where people are able to drop off what they would like to burn. The items are then placed in a box inside the white, 50-foot monster to be destroyed and forgotten. Leva stated that he has never put anything in the box, but has been attending this festival since he was 5 years old, just like most children in the community.
Another local to the area, Ricky Galvan, 23 from Tierra Amerilla, described the festival as burning away his evils and allowing people a rebirth for the upcoming year. He has attended the festival for five years and plans on going in the future.
“It’s become part of our culture and I believe everyone should experience the burning of Zozobra,” Galvan said.
Zozobra towers over revelers with an evil expression across his face. Old Man Gloom will start a terrifying moan and people dressed in white sheets representing all the “gloom” from the people’s past fill the stage. All throughout the crowd you can hear people screaming “BURN HIM! BURN HIM!” and soon there is a fire-spirit dancer dressed in red who appears on the stage and drives them away while Zozobra’s moaning continues to get louder and louder, just like the crowd.
The moaning and spirit dancers’ add an element of fear and mystery to the crowd. Little kids were burying their heads in their parent’s arms saying they were scared. Devyn Potter, a Castleton student attending the Santa Fe trip, described the burning as overwhelming and more hostile than she had expected.
“The moaning really fueled the crowd and produced an aggression that was very intense.”
But once Old Man Gloom was set on fire though, there was nothing but celebration.
The energy in the crowd is contagious and it is hard to find oneself not joining in with the traditional sayings of Zozobra. One person would scream “!Que Viva!” meaning long live, and everyone in the crowd would respond right back with as much energy screaming “!Que Viva!” just enhancing the anticipation of the burning.
Finally the fire dancer approaches the monster with a flaming torch and sets the beast on fire. It was clear at that moment that this was not just a normal festival; these people came there for a cleansing.
Soon Zozobra is engulfed in flames and the whole crowd sings and dances while the blazing beast drops to the stage.
A celebration of new beginnings starts immediately and the most amazing fireworks begin. The crowd is overwhelmed with good thoughts and smiles while the festival comes to an end and new