Zozobra is a hideous but harmless fifty-foot boogeyman marionette. He is a toothless, empty-headed facade. He has no guts and doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He never wins. He moans and groans, rolls his eyes and twists his head. His mouth gapes and chomps. His arms flail about in frustration. Every year we do him in. We string him up and burn him down in ablaze of fireworks. At last, he is gone, taking with him all our troubles for another whole year. Santa Fe celebrates another victory. Viva la Fiesta! – A.W. Denninger
Fiesta has been celebrated in Santa Fe since 1712, by proclamation of the then-governor of the province Jose Chacon Medina Salazar y Villaseor, the marquis of Penuela. It is the oldest civic celebration of its kind in North America. ZOZOBRA, which has gone up in flames every year since Will Shuster created it in 1926, became one of the symbols of the city, a potent reminder of the madcap celebrations of those times and one artist’s generous dedication to his adopted home.
The Zozobra event is staged each year by the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe as a fiery and exciting kick-off to the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe during the weekend following Labor Day.
Although the Fiestas celebration dates back to 1712, renowned Santa Fe artist Will Shuster added Zozobra in 1926. Kiwanis became officially involved in 1963. Shuster assigned all rights, title and interest in Zozobra on June 19th 1964 to the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, which retains exclusive copyright to the figure. Thus Kiwanis continues the Zozobra tradition, and as a major fund raiser has become a great way for Santa Feans to participate in community service.
Construction of the Zozobra figure and staging the event normally takes place within a two-week period. It is a labor intensive affair requiring over 1,500 volunteer hours. It involves a significant contribution of time, effort and energy from Kiwanis members, some of whom have been staging Zozobra for many years. Planning the event is a year round activity and is done in cooperation with the City of Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Fiesta Council. The Zozobra Event will be held this coming year on Thursday, September 6, 2001.
A description of the first Zozobra burning appears in the September 2, 1926, edition of the Santa Fe New Mexican:
Following vespers at the Cathedral, a long procession headed by the Conquistadores Band marched to the vacant space back of the city hall, where Zozobra, a hideous effigy figure 20 feet high, produced by the magic wand of Will Shuster, stood in ghastly silence illuminated by weird green fires. While the band played a funeral march, a group of Kiwanians in black robes and hoods stole around the figure, with four others seated before the green fires.
When City Attorney Jack Kennedy on behalf of the absent Mayor, solemnly uttered the death sentence of Zozobra, with Isadoro Armijo as interpreter, and fired several revolver shots at the monster, the green fires changed to red, the surrounding ring of bonfires was ignited, red fires blazed at the foot of the figure and shortly a match was applied to its base and leaped into a column of many colored flames.
As it burned the encircling fires blazed brighter, there was a staccato of exploding fireworks from the figure and round about, and throwing off their black robes the spectators emerged in gala costume, joining an invading army of bright-hued harlequins with torches in a dance around the fires as the band struck up “La Cucaracha.” Following which the crowd marched back between bonfires lining the streets to the armory and the big baile was on. It brought out the biggest crowd of native merrymakers seen here for years….
Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe