Zozobra: The Boogeyman of Santa Fe- page 4 | Travel | Smithsonian
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Every September for 86 years, Santa Fe residents have gathered to witness the burning of Zozobra. (Getty Images)

Zozobra: The Boogeyman of Santa Fe

Each year, New Mexicans gather around a giant burning effigy, casting off their bad memories into the consuming bonfire

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“He may be a scapegoat, but it’s better than a human sacrifice,” says Gold with a laugh.

Yet watching the last of Zozobra No. 86 smolder, as bits of ash fall upon my hair and clothes, I can’t help but feel a pang of sorrow for him. Seeing this involuntary bearer of the entire city’s dolor go up in flames has me feeling, well, a bit gloomy. Zozobra’s moaning and anguished gesticulations are so convincing that over the course of the evening, he begins to seem almost human.

But the man who knows Zozobra best is unsentimental about seeing his freakish creation reduced to a pile of embers.

“It’s fun to build him and then watch him destroyed,” he says. “He can scream and cry as much as he wants, but it’s not going to help. Gloom must be burned.”

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