One amazing tradition found ONLY in New Mexico is the burning of Zozobra. Each year (since 1924) on the Friday before Labor Day, merrymakers gather in Santa Fe to celebrate this creative symbol of letting go of all the worries and frustrations of the year.
The public is invited to write down their troubles and have them placed inside the giant marionette named Zozobra. The evening culminates in burning the art piece along with all worries to the ground. The idea of burning away the gloom and sadness sounds pretty amazing to me!
This year, the burning of Zozobra will take place on September 1.
I’ve attended the event, and it truly is one of a kind. There is nothing I’ve ever heard that compares to the moans and groans of Zozobra. You can hear it from blocks away!
The swaying chants of the crowd to “Burn Him!” were left to pound through my chest for days afterward. The frolicking twirls of the Fire Spirit Dancer left spinning lights swirling across my eyes.
And, the colorful explosions and leaping flames as Zozobra screamed in surrender to his fate left no doubt in my mind that the troubles of those watching were forgotten and gone (even if just for the night).
My husband is a high school history teacher. He taught New Mexico History for a bit. He enlisted me to create a “Zozobra” for his class. While my paper maché creation might have looked close to as creepy as the real deal, its height did not even come close to the 50-foot genuine artifact. But when he took it into his classroom and asked his students to write down their worries and place them inside, the feelings were the same. Some students laughed and wrote down their dramatic teenage tragedies. Most wrote about real and devastating issues: parents addicted to drugs, parents in jail, broken relationships, abuse, neglect, and more.
For us, Zozobra isn’t just some big, crazy-looking puppet who changes his outfit every year and then gets burned up. He is so much more.
Here are a few things I love about Zozobra.
- By creating an entire event and celebration based on burning the worries and troubles of the past year, the artist/inventor William Shuster Jr. allows us to acknowledge hardship, depression, difficulty, and struggle in our lives. Whether they burn with Zozobra or not, it’s useful to accept our struggles and name our worries.
- The burning of Zozobra is a tradition created and found only in New Mexico. Attending the event is not something just anyone in the world can do. It’s special. And it’s OURS. New Mexico doesn’t want to hold on to worry and fear. We want to rise above through creativity and togetherness!
3. Who doesn’t love it when creepy marionettes get set on fire and burn to bits?
This year, our family is creating our own personal Zozobra. You can try it too. Grab some recyclable items (cereal boxes, those math worksheets your kid did last week, and a milk jug). Make some paper maché glue out of flour and water. And get to work making this memory that will last a lifetime.
Show your kids that it’s okay to name their worries and their troubles. Show them that together you can (safely without setting anyone’s property on fire) burn them away!
Originally published August 2020.
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