Zozobra Festival of Santa Fe, New Mexico

by CountrySunshine

An annual event in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the burning of Zozobra Festival is a symbolic way to shed your troubles and begin life anew.

Are you gloomy? Have you been sad, or "down in the dumps"? It's time to get rid of your troubles and enjoy life again! The best place to do it is at the Zozobra Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico!

Held the Friday before Labor Day at the beginning of Fiestas de Santa Fe, "Old Man Gloom" promises to destroy your worries at a little bonfire, attended by over 25,000 of your closest friends.

What is the Zozobra Festival?

The Zozobra Festival is the opening event of Fiestas de Santa Fe, a 3-day celebration commemorating the Spanish re-taking the city from the Pueblo Indians in 1692. They had occupied Santa Fe since 1680.

The Fiestas de Santa Fe began in 1712, and over the years, has added a number of events, including:

  • Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral
  • The re-enactment of the Spanish incursion into Santa Fe
  • A children's pet parade
  • The historical hysterical parade


The burning of Zozobra, also known as "Old Man Gloom", began in 1924. When it was first created, the puppet stood right at 6 feet tall. Over the years, he has grown to a little under 50 feet. In 2007, Old Man Gloom made the Guiness Book of World Records as the largest marionette in the world! At that point, he was a recorded 49.11 feet tall.

How is Zozobra Constructed?

A year's worth of planning, several weeks of labor, and 3,500 volunteer hours go into the designing and building of the Zozobra puppet.

  • The outer body frame of Old Man Gloom is constructed of wood, which is then covered with chicken wire and cloth. The eyes are made of pizza pans and the clothing is unbleached muslin.
  • The inside of the frame is stuffed with "gloom", which is shredded papers, clothing, photographs, and other items. These include things such as police reports, credit card statements, mortgage statements, divorce papers, wedding dresses, and Dear John letters. People can contribute mementos to be burned along with Zozobra.
  • All of the wood, cloth and paper is held together with thousands of nails and screws, in addition to yards of duct tape.
  • His body is filled with explosives and fireworks, to help him explode while burning. Fire shoots out of his mouth, ears and arms during the ceremony, while his dress burns from bottom to top.
  • Old Man Gloom's hair color changes from year to year. In 2013, the color was green.
  • The day of the Festival, Old Man Gloom is transported by truck through the streets of Santa Fe, until he reaches the festival grounds.
  • Zozobra is raised by a crane, then attached to a metal pole from which he hangs during the festival.
  • Cables are attached to his arms to allow for movement. These cables are manipulated from the ground. Zozobra will not move until it becomes dark outside.

The Burning Ritual

On the evening of the Zozobra Festival, several thousand people amass in Fort Marcy Park in northwest Santa Fe.

As dusk falls, 24 children dressed in white sheets, called "Gloomies", begin dancing at the base of Old Man Gloom. They are then joined by the Fire Dancers, dressed in red, who carry torches. At this point, Zozobra lets loose with mournful groaning and growling, and begins to move.


The crowd begins chanting "Burn him! Burn him!" as the dancing becomes more intense. The sound is almost deafening, much like when concert goers request encores.

Finally, one lone fire dancer moves towards Zozobra, and lights his dress. As the flames move upward, the explosions and fireworks begin. Zozobra burns for several moments before finally being engulfed in flames.

Watch Him Burn!

Tips for Festival Attendees

Make the most of your experience at the Zozobra Festival by following these simple tips:

  1. Make your travel plans early. This is an extremely popular event, and hotel rooms go quickly! If you cannot find a room in Santa Fe, there are a number of cities nearby.
  2. Be in good physical shape, as you'll do a lot of walking. Parking spots are at a premium, and the roads around the festival grounds are blocked off. Plan on parking several blocks away, and walking to the festival. There are also some park & ride locations, available for a nominal fee.
  3. Purchase your tickets early to save money. In 2013, discounted tickets were available up to a month in advance. If you can't purchase them early, they are available at the gate.
  4. The Zozobra Festival is held rain or shine. Watch the weather reports, and dress accordingly.
  5. There are a number of items you cannot bring into the festival. These include pets, lawn chairs, alcohol and cigarettes. Leave all these behind, as they will be confiscated at the gate.
  6. Arrive early! While the burning of Zozobra doesn't occur until dusk, the gates normally close around 4:30 pm. Food, drink and activities are available to keep you fed and entertained until the burning begins.
Updated: 09/29/2015, CountrySunshine
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