By Paige Grant
There he stands, alone at the stake, a funny-looking manic-depressive giant, moving slightly in the breeze while the mob gathers.
As dusk falls and the circus events surrounding his lynching unfold, he begins to sob, and the crowd roars for blood, for flames, screaming obscenities at the lonely figure.
At the end, he rails in fear and anger at what is about to be done to him, and the thousands gathered at his feet and in the hills around, pumped with adrenaline and alcohol, yell "Burn him! Burn him! Burn him!" Then he expires, writhing and fire lights up the night.
As a member of that crowd, I used to be torn between sympathy for Zozobra and a recognition of something atavistic that was being played out there. "You liberal wimp," I would tell myself, "This is a ritual that's bigger than all of us," and I would suppress my sense of the injustice that was inherent in the ceremony and revel in the beauty of the great fire and the sense of the whole community coming together for this wild ritual.
I loved being a ripple in the river of humanity flowing from the ball park to the Plaza, the fun of running into friends, eating greasy food, dancing in the street. A real fiesta.
But then there was the year of the murder on the plaza. I would have been there with my children if we hadn't been stuck in the porta-potty line.
By the time we got as far as the Scottish Rite Temple, there was an ugly buzz in the crowd that made me decide we'd had enough fiesta that night.
And then the headline the following morning, and my son said, "I never want to go there again."
He went back the next year. His little sister, who was a Zozobra sympathizer and hated the whole affair until she hit her teens, now times her return to college so that she won't miss his demise.
But I haven't returned to join the lynch mob. Drawn like a moth to flame, I watch from the hills and glory in the fireworks, but I don't want to be surrounded by the poisonous anger of those screaming, "Burn the ---!"
Once, a small gathering of friends sat around a hibachi, burning slips of paper on which we'd written our secret griefs. That, of course, is the theory behind Zozobra: That he is the embodiment of all the bad stuff within us that needs to be consigned to fire. But the reality is, the mob that burns him hates him, without recognition that they are projecting what is hateful in themselves onto that big ugly puppet.
He is Other, and the ritual that has mushroomed like an evil genie out of Will Schuster's inspired fun at a backyard party has turned into a mob scene that brings out the worst in people, rather than immolating it in a common pyre.
We need a new, joyful ritual to celebrate the start of Fiestas, as the candlelight procession from the cathedral beautifully marks its end.
We should construct a permanent wooden Zozobra, a huge, craggy, handsomely ugly wooden statue that presides over the ceremony from year to year.
That ceremony should center on a great lidded metal basket in which attendees to the ceremony deposit their notes or paper art about what they are consigning to the flames.
At a certain point, the lid will be closed (to minimize flaming bits floating into the crowd), and the glooms will parade and the fire dancer cavort and the drummers drum, and then the basket of our collective sorrow and anger will go up in glorious flames while firework flowers bloom overhead.
Then we'll all process down to the plaza to meet our friends, eat greasy food and dance to mariachi and rhythm and blues.
Que viva la Fiesta!
Paige Grant lives in Santa Fe, where she and her husband run a mom-and-pop hydrology and engineering consulting firm, Watershed West.