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By Jennifer Villela
What do we do with our gloom this year? Make our favorite New Mexico foods, watch Zozobra's first no-crowd burn on TV or online, and dance!
If there was ever a year in which we need to burn our gloom, this is it.
The coronavirus pandemic has done incredible damage around the globe, killing far too many people and wreaking havoc on our lives. For parents, keeping our children and ourselves healthy, both mentally and physically, and engaged in positive activities, while quarantining ourselves, working and staying socially distanced, is an enormous job.
Thankfully, Zozobra, also known as Old Man Gloom, will still burn this year, albeit not with a live crowd of 64,000 (the number of people who attended last year). But we can all virtually watch him burn, staying safe in our homes, at 8 p.m. MDT Sept. 4. The whole fantastic spectacle will be aired on New Mexico’s KOAT-TV.
This will be the first year in its 96-year history that it will be a no-crowd burn. This is surely one for the history books.
In the past few years, my family has started a number of Zozobra traditions. Our son Octavio is now 11. (He was the Tumbleweeds cover boy in Summer 2017!) When he was younger, my husband and I would take him to Zozobra and stand by the fence dividing Fort Marcy Park and the baseball field. That was a perfect view for a younger child -- not so close to the burning that it was too loud, and we could get in and out of the park fairly easily. We also have friends who live right off of Bishop’s Lodge Road, so we would attend parties with them and watch the burning from afar.
For the past three years, I have ensured that we ramp up our Zozobra effort, excitement and experience. We have made sure we are front and center without paying premium tickets, and we have seen such excellent burns!
Our more recent Zozobra adventures have looked like this.
We invite a few friends. Last year I took Octavio and his friends Rowan and Jamai by myself, because the other moms and dads were tired on a Friday night. That might have been my favorite year so far. But maybe each year gets better! We make Frito pies -- our official dinner of Zozobra. I’m guessing many people have their favorite Zozobra and Santa Fe Fiesta meal. We eat our pies at home so that when we stand in line for some goodies before the burning, we aren’t starving.
We pack our rain ponchos and hop in the car, and I drive way around the east side of town from south-central Santa Fe, where we live. We go a good few miles out of way to access a secret parking space, just east of the plaza. That’s right -- a secret parking spot that allows us to park and walk about a mile until we arrive at the Scottish Rite Temple. Shh. Don’t tell anyone.
When we get to the field, we first head for the snacks and the treats. I usually buy a few light sabers for the boys, because they still love these, then we get a shaved ice or maybe a funnel cake. Then we head to the area of the field where we can get closest to Zozo and see all the action. We revel as the crowd grows so large. We dance and play beach ball bounce. And then we wait in anticipation for the whole spectacle: the moaning, the gloomies, the fantastic burn. Then the burn happens! We yell, we scream, “Burn him, burn him,” so loudly that our voices are hoarse by the time we leave. And we watch as our very own Old Man Gloom goes up in smoke in an enormous inferno. There is nothing like it!
After the burn, another favorite part of the night is dancing with the crowd. Last year, multiple times after the event, Octavio said to me, “I think we set the world record for the most people dancing to 'YMCA'.” We were awed by exiting the park with that many other people in such a calm and peaceful fashion and being part of a happy crowd. The boys are big enough now that I hardly have to work to keep our group together, and we stick together fairly easily. When we get to the car for the slow crawl through traffic and buses that fill the streets of downtown Santa Fe and further, I turn the radio up and roll the windows down, and we jam out to the radio -- everyone incredibly happy and sleepy.
On Sept. 4 this year, for our “special” Covid-19 edition of Zozobra, at a time in which we would do anything to be in a crowd (safely) and to see friends, our family will plan a celebration to watch Zozobra burn, because we must do everything we can to keep the gloomies away and keep our spirits up.
First, we will invite friends from near and far to join a Zoom call to watch the burning. We will have them tune into KOAT from wherever they are via the Internet. Maybe some of our friends from far away will never have heard of Zozobra. This will be a terrific opportunity to share the story of Zozobra and Will Shuster, the artist who created the first Zozobra back in 1924, and everything the Santa Fe Kiwanis Club continues to do today for Santa Fe nonprofits through Zozobra proceeds.
We will pay $1 per gloom so that our worries can go up in flames. The Kiwanis Club is still focused on both burning our troubles away and raising money. We will go to burnmygloom.com/burn-your-gloom and pay to burn as much bad luck and as many negative things as possible. We will also share this opportunity with our friends, by purchasing the chance for them to submit a gloom or two to go up in smoke. According to the friendly folks at Zozobra, “Filled to the top of his gloomy head, Zozobra will burn bigger and brighter than ever because of the intense woes of 2020. Every gloom will be printed out on paper and stuffed inside Zozobra before he burns on Friday, September 4, 2020.”
We will also purchase some 2020 Zozobra merchandise. We realize that this year’s virtual event is not likely to raise the revenue that is usually raised for many Santa Fe nonprofits, so we will support them financially and perhaps get a new hat, bandana or T-shirt.
We will persevere and make Frito pies! Okay, that’s not perseverance, but we will stick with our traditional Zozobra meal. If you aren’t sure what to make for your virtual Zozobra party, you can check out some traditional recipes from New Mexico True, or you can take a virtual cooking class with the talented folks at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, created especially for this celebration.