Santa Fe New Mexican Editorial

Apr 3, 2016

Our View: Zozobra: Giving back the best way

The New Mexican

The best traditions stay rooted in the past but continue to adapt to changing conditions. As Santa Fe residents have seen, the annual burning of Zozobra manages to keep things fresh while at the same time remaining true to the spirit of fun and frivolity envisioned by its creator, Will Shuster.

Along the way, the spectacle that is the burning of the 50-foot-tall marionette has been part of a deeper purpose. The show’s organizer — the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe — is clear in its purpose to do good with the money made from ticket sales at the annual burning. Every year, money is handed out to scholarship recipients and checks are written to assist nonprofits in town.

But event organizer Ray Sandoval wants the popular event to make a more lasting difference. To do that, the club will be using some proceeds to sponsor a capital project, an investment that will remain long after the boogeyman has gone up in smoke and the trash from the event is picked up.

The first such project in recent years will be a playground for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Fe at the Zona del Sol Youth and Family Center in Tierra Contenta. This is a concrete contribution, to be used by children — the folks who love Zozobra the most. It’s a return to an earlier tradition, too, when the Kiwanis Club bought and donated benches for the Plaza, or helped pay for the pool at the Salvador Perez Recreation Center. Then, as is happening now, the dollars raised by Zozobra’s demise are being invested in Santa Fe.

Sandoval wants to do more with the event itself, too, to make it more environmentally friendly. With the explosion of fireworks and the mounds of trash that pile up, there is a lot to tackle. First, the easy stuff — banning plastic bottles and requiring vendors to use only biodegradable forks, knives and plates. Solar light towers are a possibility, to avoid burning fossil fuels for the event’s light sources.

The fireworks are going to stay, despite the environmental impact, but the Kiwanis Club will plant trees as a way to offset emissions. It’s a way to bring balance.

By bringing in children to do the planting, there’s also an opportunity for a teachable moment about sustainability and climate change, Sandoval said. There’s science and facts behind the initiative, too. Sandoval already has had one environmental assessment done, by Glenn Schiffbauer, executive director of the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce, and plans a more in-depth one this year. The sustainability focus will become a part of Zozobra, just as the Fire Dancer and the presentation of the Santa Fe Fiesta Court are.

Eventually, Zozobra will be able to show other events how to make a lesser impact on the environment, continuing the tradition of giving back. Some of that is already happening. The International Folk Art Market/Santa Fe offers water stations and reusable bottles as a way to discourage the use of plastic.

Zozobra, by banning plastic bottles and encouraging folks to plant trees, can move the sustainability bar even further. Attendees at Santa Fe Indian Market, Spanish Market and the like can enjoy themselves without leaving a mess behind. Heck, perhaps the organizers of Zozobra will set such a great example when it comes to picking up trash that some day, there will be a Good Friday pilgrimage to Chimayó that doesn’t involve litter left behind. We can always dream.

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