Zozobra: A collective scapegoat for life’s miseries, a sacrifice to swallow gloom and release it via smoke into the sky.

The 50-foot marionette and beloved Santa Fe tradition is necessary in an average year and close to invaluable in this, year two of the coronavirus pandemic. There is gloom aplenty to send up in smoke.

Last year, many saw Old Man Gloom go up in smoke via livestreaming — watching on televisions or laptops, joined by people the world over.



As recently as a few months ago, there was hope Zozobra could be more or less back to normal. Vaccinations for COVID-19 were on the rise. Cases and hospitalizations were down. As Zozobra is an outdoors event, it seemed possible — even as the delta variant approached — the event could be what it was before 2020.

But COVID-19 is a relentless opponent, and in the past several weeks it became clear Zozobra could not be its robust self again this year.

The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe decided to limit attendance to 10,000. That’s still a crowd, but substantially less than the tens of thousands who attended the last in-person Zozobra in 2019. Zozobra-goers also must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination status or have a copy of a recent negative COVID-19 test. All are wise precautions.

Now, just as the annual burning is but a day away, tropical storms are sending rain to Santa Fe. Storms are being forecast for much of the week. Zozobra usually goes forward, rain or shine. Unless storms make conditions on the field unsafe, that is.

A lightning storm in 2018 underscored just how dangerous being outdoors can be in severe weather. That’s not an experience to repeat.

Instead, Kiwanis Club members will decide Thursday what to do about Friday night. They want Zozobra-goers to know in plenty of time to stay home, if necessary. Depending on the forecast, the burn could be delayed and ’80s-era Zozobra given a reprieve.

Though rain from Tropical Storm Nora is expected, it’s not clear whether lightning and high winds will be part of the package around burn time Friday night. It’s the threat of a strike on the field or sparks lighting a fire nearby that have to be considered.

Right now, there’s a glimmer of good news. The Friday forecast looks mostly clear.

But, as event organizer Ray Sandoval said earlier this week, “Safety is always paramount.”

Warning is not always possible. The 2018 storm was sudden, and organizers watched as lightning crisscrossed the sky above Fort Marcy. On the field, the usual excitement before the burn turned into a feeling of anxiousness — would Zozobra be lit before rain poured? Would lightning strike the crowd or Old Man Gloom? To get ahead of the weather, organizers decided to burn Zozobra 15 minutes early, a decision that left hundreds waiting to get in at security.

As it is, with just 10,000 people allowed — in-person ticket sales were close to 9,000 on Wednesday — entering the field should be a breeze in 2021, though proof of vaccination and test results have to be shown and checked.

That is, of course, weather permitting. Organizers must be cautious in making a decision. Safety has to come first. Zozobra, after all, receives our gloom. The occasion of his burning should not be a time to add more grief to an already burdened world.

(3) comments

Rod Oldehoeft

The rational thing to do with Zozobra in future is to move it to the rodeo grounds. At least some spectators can sit in bleachers (charge extra for it?), everyone can park easily, and the neighborhoods around Fort Marcy will be spared the annual hassle of street closures, etc.

Lupe Molina

That's a great idea. Seems all around more manageable.

LeRoy Sanchez

No way!

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