THE BURNING OF OLD MAN GLOOM
A yearly New Mexico tradition…
The heat of summer is past, but it’s still shirtsleeve weather… sunny and pleasant during the fall season. Santa Fe is a beautiful fusion of Native American and Spanish cultures that grew out of Native American Pueblo settlements and adobe houses.
Spanish soldiers, officials, and Franciscan missionaries struggled to conquer and convert the native Pueblo Indians in the seventeenth century. In a massive revolt, the Indians attacked and nearly burned all of Santa Fe to the ground. But in 1692, Don Diego de Vargas led a bloodless siege that enabled him to enter the city and take it back without firing a single shot.
An annual religious fiesta in honor of Our Lady of Peace and honoring Vargas’ reconquest was established in 1712, and La Fiesta de Santa Fe remains the oldest such continuing event in the U.S. Just after dusk on the first Friday before Labor Day is the time for Fiesta de Santa Fe and the burning of Zozobra.
Zozobra (“Old Man Gloom”) is a giant marionette effigy that is built and burned every autumn during Fiestas de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
He has big ears and wears a bow-tie and a scowling expression. This year he also wears something new: cufflinks made from pizza pans. Basically, he’s a muslin figure stuffed with shredded paper. Before he’s strung up, his head and part of his insides are laced with explosives. Once mounted, he’s secured by stout steel cables to a sixty-foot metal pole and a twelve-foot crossbar. The steel wires attached to his arms, head and mouth allow the puppet’s movements to be manipulated from the ground. Though Zozobra has been designed and built as a marionette puppet, until dark, he remains a motionless, sullen, spectator towering above the happy festivities.
It’s dusk, and the feeling of anticipation is growing. Twenty-four Santa Fe children draped in white sheets appear as “Gloomies” to dance around the feet of the effigy. While tom toms thunder on huge kettle-drums, the children are led by the Queen of Gloom. They have come to “plead” for Zozobra’s life, but to no avail.
The proclamation of the death of Old Man Gloom is read. Zozobra, is a hideous 50-foot bogeyman, a toothless, empty-headed façade with no guts, but he’s able to make lots of noise and growling, for scaring the children of Santa Fe and making dogs howl at the moon!
A group of Fire Dancers appear, their purpose is to tease and annoy Old Man Gloom. Now he starts to move his arms, he opens and closes his mouth, and moans. A single adult dancer then performs a solo, ending with the lighting of the torch to the hem of Zozobra’s skirt.
Dancers and drum beats set the stage and just after dusk, the 50-foot statue called Zozobra, is set on fire. The marionette now moves its arms and mouth and he makes howling echoes and a shuddering noise. The crowd applauds as the flames crawl quickly up Zozobra’s skirt, setting off the explosives inside him, while a blaze of fireworks erupts overhead.
The colorful display lasts for several minutes after Old Man Gloom has been completely demolished. The masses cheer, appeased for yet another year, because they have stuffed the old man with slips of paper that contain their appeals to be rid of their plights. It is believed that when he is burned, all of your troubles go up in smoke with him.
Zozobra’s appearance has changed over the years, but the tradition of the Fiestas de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico has not. As his name suggests, he embodies gloom and by his burning, people destroy the worries and troubles of the previous year in the flames.
Away with Zozobra!
This following is a recent review that I rather enjoyed…
“A skillfully written piece of prose that informs many of us of a tradition we knew nothing about. It is interesting to read about another culture, and of a ritual that is so intriguing. All I can say, is after the year I’ve had, I’d like to add a few pieces of paper to Zozobra!”
Thank you for joining me today. I hope that you enjoyed my blog…
Happy Reading and have a safe, fun-filled 2016 Labor Day. K. Lorraine
K. Lorraine – website http://klorraine.com