The Burning of Zozobra, the centerpiece of Fiesta de Santa Fe, is one of the city’s most exciting traditions. Santa Feans love the Fiesta for the art and the food and the celebration of cultures. But the spectacle of Old Man Gloom, burning 50 feet high while chomping his jaw and flailing his arms . . . it’s an amazing sight to behold.
This year’s Burning of Zozobra takes place August 31 from 2 PM to 11 PM at Fort Marcy Park, located just a few blocks from the Santa Fe Plaza. Get tickets here.
The Fiesta de Santa Fe will follow on September 1 through 9. You can get a schedule with details here.
A Brief History of Zozobra and Fiesta de Santa Fe
The ceremony draws an obvious comparison to Burning Man, but predates the Nevada festival by a good 60 years.
The Burning of Zozobra is also more accessible than the Burning Man festival. You don’t have to go out into the desert and camp out in the heat for a week straight just to see the show. You can just head out to the Plaza in the evening and watch from a distance.
The first burning took place back in 1924 when Santa Fe icon William Howard Shuster, Jr. built a six-foot tall effigy of Old Man Gloom to amuse a few friends.
Almost 100 years later, the effigy has evolved to a 50-foot creation with moving parts built on a skeleton of wood and wire, with muslin skin stuffed with shredded paper, on which Santa Feans have written a year’s worth of bad news and negative thoughts.
The Burning of Zozobra represents how the Fiesta de Santa Fe has evolved over the centuries. First celebrated to commemorate the 1692 Spanish conquest of the state, the people of Santa Fe eventually turned the Fiesta into a celebration of Southwestern tradition and art.
The Zozobra celebration has become the flagship event of the Fiesta, representing the imagination and creativity of the city. The event symbolizes the sense of hope and optimism that art can bring us, as all of the year’s worries are blown away in a fiery spectacle as the dummy burns and flails and fireworks blast off in all directions.
When to Show Up for the Fiesta de Santa Fe
Fiesta de Santa Fe is a laid-back festival taking place over ten days, so you can drop in and out at your leisure.
But we do recommend checking out two events in particular: First is Desfile de Los Ninos, the children’s pet parade starting at 9 AM September 8.
If you want to participate with the kids, walking the parade will run you a $5 registration fee per person, or $20 for groups of five or more people.
Then there’s Desfile de La Gente, the Historical/Hysterical Parade, starting at 1 PM on September 9, with participants lining up at 7 AM. The parade celebrates the history of the region with colorful performance troupes and floats.
This year’s Burning of Zozobra is set for August 31, with the actual burning kicking off at 9:30 PM, though you’ll definitely want to get there early.
General admission is $10 and there are select seating spots available, as close as 95 feet from the burning effigy. This premium experience lets you walk right up to the embers to roast marshmallows.
Ticketing will get you a guaranteed seat for the event, but it’s not hard to get a good view of Zozobra from public areas around the Plaza.
How to Get to the Burning of Zozobra
We recommend taking an Uber, a Lyft, a taxi, or a Roadrunner bus, or at the very least, carpooling. Finding a parking space can be impossible if you don’t get there early, and escaping the traffic after the event is just as difficult.
If you want your last memory of the day to be the exploding effigy, let someone else do the driving. Check out the official Zozobra site for more suggestions.
The event is fast-paced, as wood, muslin and paper burn pretty quickly, so you don’t need to worry about setting the entire night aside in order to enjoy the Burning of Zozobra. If you have a couple of free hours on August 31, you’ll have time to check it out.
The Burning of Zozobra is one of our most highly-recommended events. Skip the whole Fiesta if you want, but be sure to check out Zozobra.
Watching the effigy burn into the night as fireworks blast off into the sky—the experience is both empowering and positive, and it will leave you ready to take the next day with a whole new perspective. Happy Fiesta de Santa Fe!