First-Timers’ Guide To Zozobra

The First-Timers’ Guide to Zozobra

Zozobra Newbie? Get ready for Santa Fe’s hottest party! One of New Mexico’s most enduring icons, Zozobra, aka Old Man Gloom, is the Original Burning Man, predating the Black Rock newcomer by 60 years. Created in 1924 by legendary artist Will Shuster and now set ablaze annually by the Santa Fe Kiwanis Club, the 93rd Burning of Zozobra on the Friday before Labor Day, September 1, 2017, is a highlight of Santa Fe’s historic fiesta. And it's absolutely the best way to shake off gloom and fire up fun!

Who is Old Man Gloom?

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One of New Mexico’s most enduring icons, Zozobra, aka Old Man Gloom, is the Original Burning Man, predating the Black Rock newcomer by 60 years. Created in 1924 by legendary Santa Fe artist Will Shuster has been set ablaze annually since 1964 by the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe. Will Shuster’s creation originated as a homely 6-foot effigy made to entertain friends and family, and over the decades has morphed into a towering 50-footer, one of the world’s tallest fully functioning marionettes. His bones of wood and wire shrouded in endless yards of muslin, Zozobra is stuffed with an absolute mountain of shredded paper. Tucked inside his enormous body are slips of paper inscribed with a year’s worth of gloomy thoughts and disappointments, destined to go up in smoke when he is set alight in a fiery extravaganza culminating in the city’s finest fireworks display. And this only-in-Santa-Fe experience is a mere $10 per person, kids under 10 free!

What’s this gloomy guy’s backstory? An empty-headed monster, out to wreak havoc whenever and wherever he can, Santa Fe’s biggest trouble-maker gladly takes the blame––or rather the credit––for everything that goes wrong in life. Zozobra, whose name comes from a Spanish expression meaning “the gloomy one,” has a fascinating history worth discovering, and any Santa Fesino has tales to share of this local outlaw’s dastardly deeds. But for now, let’s take you right into the heart of the action.

The When and The Where of Zozobra

First things first. In a big reveal, Old Man Gloom is introduced to his loyal fans at the annual ZozoFest, a free public party and art exhibit taking place on August 26-28, 2017, the weekend before the Burning of Zozobra. This is where to discover unique Zozobra art for sale and be the first to score souvenirs! Seen in pieces, with Zozobra’s massive head looking out over the gargantuan torso full of all things gloomy––divorce papers, report cards, pink slips––name it, then go right ahead and put it in there––the Old Man doesn’t seem quite so threatening.  But just you wait until the main event!

The Official Burning of Zozobra takes
place annually on the Friday before torchLabor Day at Fort Marcy Park in downtown Santa Fe, occurring this year on Friday, September 1, 2017. The field gates open and entertainment begins at 3:00 p.m., burn time is scheduled for 9:30 p.m., and the event runs until approximately 10:00 p.m., weather permitting. Zozobra is a rain or shine event – he WILL burn regardless of the elements! Do like the locals: Come to the field for an early preview between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. to see the Gloomy One being painstakingly hauled up onto his pole.

What's New to Zozobra?

2016 was Year Three of the Decades Project, bringing Zozobra into the 1940s WW2 era, steeped in history and cultural significance for our city, our country, and the world at large.In recognition of the profound and far-reaching consequences of the era, the Kiwanis joined together with the Santa Fe Jewish Center - Chabad to add a special Holocaust Memorial, which took place at 6pm on Thursday, September 1, 2016, the 77th anniversary of the start of WWII and the 75th anniversary of the date when the Jewish population of Germany was ordered to wear a yellow Star of David, and gays, gypsies and outsiders were similarly marked and publicly shamed.

2017, Year Four of the Decades Project, brings Old Man Gloom squarely into the Mad Men 1950s, and you can expect to see a design that mirrors that era!

How To Be An Expert Gloom Buster

It helps to be to in the know when the field opens officially at 3:00 p.m. for the event:

•    Tickets are available online or at the gate for $10 per person; kids under 10 free.
•    There is NO parking at or near the field
•    No alcohol on the field.
•    All bags and backpacks are searched on entry.
•    You can bring food, but no coolers, metal utensils, or glass containers are permitted on the field. Food trucks are on the scene, so why bother to schlep?
•    No tables or metal lawn chairs are permitted on the field; only folding umbrella-style folding chairs are allowed.
•    Strollers are not permitted on the field; there is a stroller check-in area for easy retrieval.
•    No pets are allowed, with the exception of certified assistance dogs.
•    Please – no laser lights, sparklers or fireworks on the field.
•    Roads around the event are closed at 6:00 p.m. Insider tip: Come early enough to capture the full flavor of the event.
•    There is no parking at the field; please consult the map for parking options. There is free shuttle service from the Railrunner Express and parking is available in city parking lots, with a flat parking fee of $5 applies after 6pm. City of Santa Fe transit buses are in service and all routes are free after 5pm.
•    Handicapped attendees can be dropped of near the field, but there is no handicapped parking at or near the field.

Get Down for a Good Time


Once you’re on the field and have scouted out a prime viewing spot, it’s time to kick back and enjoy the succession of red-hot bands that keep the crowd rocking as Zozobra’s appointed hour of doom approaches. A gloom box is located on the field so you still have time to write down and add your woes up until 8:00 p.m. when the last of the gloom is added to feed the Old Man's voracious appetite for trouble.

Plenty of food vendors are on hand to feed the hungry, cold drinks are located on the field, and Zozobra souvenirs fly off the shelves like lightning. Don’t wait to get that T-shirt or Zozobra bobble-head, or you might go home without! As the field fills, be sure to keep a sharp eye out for devoted fans in vintage tees and diehard fanatics who masquerade as Zozobra himself.

As the sun sets and anticipation rises, more fun and surprises ensue. Beach ball toss, anyone? Zozobra glares down from his perch at the top of the field when the Santa Fe Fiesta Court comes to pay homage, welcoming Old Man Gloom as the point man for a week’s worth of Fiesta events to follow. A litany of Zozobra’s crimes is shared with the crowd and the city’s biggest, baddest and oldest renegade is pronounced guilty as charged. And suddenly, lights out, it’s 9:30 p.m. – time for the reckoning!

Are You Ready to Burn Him?

In the darkness, the Zozobra Orchestra launches into an eerie funereal tune and trapped on his pole, Old Man Gloom––who arrogantly assumed he was the evening’s guest of honor––swivels his head side to side, angrily trying to see what’s happening. Flailing his arms and growling for help, he calls out his gang of gloomies (a crop of lucky under-14-year-olds) to rescue him and exact revenge, but alas for him, they are chased away by a parade of torch-bearers who set bonfires alight on the stage. The threat of disaster looming, Zozobra snarls in rage and frustration, only to be met at last by the appearance of the Fire Spirit, his age-old arch-enemy. As the crowd chants, “Burn him,” the Fire Spirit draws strength and inspiration from their approval, dancing up and down, taunting the gloomy giant whose frenzied howls cannot prevent his appointment with destiny. Blazing torches in each hand, the Fire Spirit sends sparks aloft to Zozobra’s head, where his fate is sealed in flames and gloom is vanquished for yet another year under a dazzling fireworks display.

First You Have to Visit Santa Fe, New Mexico 

Begin by getting your hotel reservations in place since the event takes place on the Friday before Labor Day, summer's last big holiday! Make the most of the 93rd Burning of Zozobra on the Friday before Labor Day, September 1, 2017 by staying on to see the beauty and culture of northern New Mexico! A week of Official Fiestas de Santa Fe events begin on Saturday, September 2, 2017, the day after Zozobra burns

Why Add Zozobra to My Annual Bucket-List?

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Sound like autumn’s hottest adventure? ABSOLUTELY! The Decades Project leading up to Zozobra’s 100th anniversary in 2024 means a new experience with a new Mr. Z every year. Join the faithful who come year after year from around the globe to cast off the sorrows of the past and renew their spirits together in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

SEE YOU IN SANTA FE, NM, ON THE FRIDAY BEFORE LABOR DAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2017!