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Zozobra organizers think outside the gloom box

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Few Santa Fe traditions are more cherished than the burning of Zozobra, attracting New Mexicans from across the state to celebrate the destruction of the past year’s gloom in one fiery burst.

However, as with many other traditions in 2020, Zozobra organizers have had to adapt to a world of COVID-19.

With no crowd allowed at this year’s burning of Zozobra, organizers have come up with an alternative way to submit people’s gloom and send it up in flames. (Pat Vasquez -Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal)

Ray Sandoval, who coordinates the event on behalf of the local Kiwanis Club, said the initial plan was to have attendees socially distance themselves at Fort Marcy Park for the Sept. 4 event. However, he and other organizers realized figuring out who could attend and who couldn’t would be a difficult and self-defeating task.

“It felt like we were doing a lot of subtraction, when the entire event is about bringing the community together,” he said.

Eventually, the decision was reached to hold the event in front of a non-existent crowd and broadcast the Burning of Zozobra for people to watch at home. However, Sandoval said they needed to go a little to further to capture the spirit of the event.

For decades, people from all over have placed their fears, embarrassments and sources of anger inside Old Man Gloom to watch them burn into the night sky. The Kiwanis Club needed to make sure this aspect of the event was maintained, even in front of an empty crowd, Sandoval said.

To keep risk of transmission to a minimum, the Kiwanis created an online page where people could purchase gloom to burn for $1, rather than having people drop off handwritten glooms at a central location. The gloom, detailing whatever the person wants to rid themselves of, would then be printed out, placed inside the giant puppet and set ablaze.

People also have the option of uploading pictures of documents they want burned, as well.

“If you have that pink slip, if you have that bad report card, if you have that parking ticket you haven’t paid in a while … we’ll print them out and burn them for you,” Sandoval said.

Another option, for an extra fee, is to select which part of Old Man Gloom your gloom will be placed in, such as the head or heart.

Sandoval said the fees will go toward much of the charity work that the Kiwanis Club usually relies on Zozobra to fund. He added that many people have been generous to nonprofits since the start of the pandemic and the Kiwanis wants to ensure some money goes to local charities.

So far, the virtual gloom has been a success. More than 1,000 glooms were bought on the first day and nearly 5,000 were purchased by the end of the week, Sandoval said.

A map of the purchased glooms shows that people from across the country have participated in the event, from California to Iowa. Sandoval said that, given the worldwide gloom caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the online option gives “Zozobra newbies” an opportunity to participate in a Santa Fe institution.

“They definitely understand that 2020 is a year filled with a lot of gloom and there’s a lot of stuff that people want to get rid of,” he said. “Zozobra is really a metaphor for this battle between the good and the bad of ourselves.”

Those interested in purchasing gloom can visit

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