Polymathic | Zozobra

Back when I had a fireplace – which I sorely miss, major criteria for buying a home = it MUST have a fireplace – I started a NYE tradition: writing down worries onto small slips of paper, tossing them into the fire, and “letting go” as they turned to ash.

What I didn’t know is that this tradition has been going on for years, almost a century, in the form of Zozobra.

Zozobra, or “Old Man Gloom” is the embodiment of anxiety, fear, and gloom, feeding off people’s worries and negative behavior. He takes form as a giant marionette effigy that is built and burned on the Friday before Labor Day annually since 1924 here in Santa Fe. Originally a six-foot tall puppet, he has grown to be a 50-foot tall marionette, complete with moving parts and glowing eyes.

Leading up to the festival, people are encouraged to write down their sorrows on sheets of paper and drop them off in “gloom boxes” located throughout town. These papers are shredded and stuffed into the marionette when he is built. Crowds of over 60,000 gather to watch him, and their worries, burn.

I love the ritual of periodically letting go of our accumulated worries to make room for new adventures. As the festival says, the gloom will continue to find its way back into our lives, so each year it must be washed away anew with the flames.

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