By: Stefany Olivas, Business Manager
The Zozobra Tradition
“10 Minutes With…” is a feature in which a member of the CNM faculty shares professional insight on a local, national or international issue.
History Instructor Brandon Morgan said the annual Santa Fe tradition of burning the Zozobra actually began as a private ritual for artist William Shuster and his colleagues.
The friends would burn the marionette as a symbol of burning away their anxieties and gloom for the year, he said. Morgan said there are similar rituals connected to a tradition called Cartonería; a religious festival representing the burning of Judas on Holy Saturday.
“Zozobra was the artist’s idea and spin on some of those kinds of ritual traditions. So it’s sort of a pagan counter point to the catholic side of the fiesta,” said Morgan.
Zozobra began as a small figure that was not much larger than a full-sized man, but he has grown dozens of feet high over the years. During the day of the event, artists construct Old Man Gloom from wooden frames and paper maché. When the sun begins to set, the Zozobra is ignited along with everyone’s written sorrows, said Morgan.
Around 1920 the Santa Fe Tourism Board renewed the fiestas to occur annually, and began charging admission he said. This renewal was a part of the board’s effort to show off New Mexican history and bring tourist money into the city.
Shuster, and other artists, created the Pasa Tiempo fiestas — the past time — in opposition to the tourism board’s decision, as something the public could enjoy for free. The Pasa Tiempo fiestas included the burning of Zozobra, said Morgan.
“It was a focus on the community though; a way to bring people together, and commemorate a new start or commemorate the burying of sins, or betrayal, those kinds of things too,” said Morgan.
He said by 1924, many of the Catholic traditions still remained and several events from Pasa Tiempo, including Zozobra, were incorporated into the Fiestas de Santa Fe. The Fiestas de Santa Fe began in 1712 in honor of the re-conquest of New Mexico by Don Diego de Vargas for the Spaniards beginning in 1692.
“The pueblo groups that lived in New Mexico in 1680 forced their Spanish conquerors out,” said Morgan.
De Vargas returned to Santa Fe twelve years later and met the Native Americans at the gates with Spanish soldiers.
He demanded that his men be allowed back into the city, said Morgan.
Years after de Vargas’ death, government administrators felt his conquest should be commemorated, said Morgan.
Morgan said it wasn’t until about 1919 that the fiestas focused on celebrating the diverse culture, rather than the Spanish occupation, that had developed in New Mexico.
“We’re all descendants of the Spanish, descendants of Pueblo people, and Anglo- American people now living here in harmony. The fiesta is all about commemorating the good relations between different cultural groups in New Mexico,” said Morgan.
This year’s Zozobra will burn on Thursday, Sept. 6 from 3:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. at Fort Mercy Park in Santa Fe. Adult tickets are $20. For more information go to zozobra.com
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