Viva la Fiesta

By Shayla Blatchford

Even though the props and events of Fiesta have packed up their bags and gone, the spirit of Fiesta never departs. Over the past few years, I’ve been able to observe the various ways in which locals celebrate and interpret the cultural holiday. For some, it’s about family and culture, a deeply rooted appreciation for their town and history. Others may find Fiesta as a time to simply celebrate life and share it with friends over seasoned corn in a cup along with some agua fresca. Either way, during this week of festivities, it seems as though the whole town comes together as family.

With the highlight of the week being Zozobra, friends and families trickle down and around Fort Marcy Park to watch a 40-foot effigy of Old Man Gloom go up in flames. The giant paper mâché puppet represents the troubles and gloom of the past year and once it goes up in flames, so does your gloom! In some aspects, it is very much a communal and religious ceremony. Everyone admits to experiencing some gloom by simply attending the burn. I even heard a young woman comparing Zozobra to Santa Claus as a child. Until this day, she still believes that “Zozo” will take away her gloom each year and she can move on and start over.

An evening of family and friends celebrate Fiesta with Frito pies and homemade chili.

Some people choose to officially attend Zozobra by buying a ticket that allows you an up-close experience. From an aerial view, you can see that the entire Fort Marcy baseball field is packed with families, 20-somethings, and food vendors of all sorts. For those who prefer not to pay the $10 entrance fee, Fiesta parties can be found at every house lining the road that leads you to Zozobra. This year, I chose to spend my weekend of Fiesta with my favorite Santa Fe local ladies. For them, Fiesta weekend is spent with family and friends all while strutting their best Fiesta dress attire. But its not just for the ladies; you can also find men with Fiesta shirts with just as many ribbons and sequence.

As the celebration of Fiesta continued on into the evening of Zozobra’s burning, the entourage of ladies in their Fiesta dress led our group to a relative’s house. The property was romantically decorated with twinkling lights and pockets of people conversing under the dim light of night. Coyote fences lined the arroyo along the backyard and cottonwood trees surrounded our lookout point from which we stood to watch the burning. As the time got closer to the big finale, more and more people started to trickle in-to the back yard and onto the roof for a better view. The spotlights from the park poured into the yard and everyone glittered in their Fiesta attire. When the groans of Old Man Gloom finally made it over the loudspeakers, everyone started heckling the giant puppet, chanting “BURN HIM! BURN HIM! BURN HIM!”

Serena Rieke pauses to capture Zozobra before the burning begins.

As I watched this group of childhood friends lined along the coyote fence, I knew I was witnessing something very special to Santa Fe. These friends come together once a year, flying or driving from wherever life has taken them, to relive childhood memories and burn their gloom away. They bring friends and loved ones so they can get a glimpse of what Santa Fe truly is. Even though it’s a huge event for the town with a weekend of parades, I still think its an honest depiction of what makes Santa Fe what it is and I believe it to be it’s strong sense of family.

After the fireworks and burning of Zozobra, everyone truly seems to have burned their woes away. It was as if everyone experienced some sort of spiritual cleansing and release that was soaked up in the smoke and ash that got carried away as the winds picked up and headed north. Even though the highlight of the week was over, there was still more Fiesta to be had. The next day, an even closer group of family and friends gathered for a romantic backyard dinner of Frito Pies and cerveza. An intimate night for those who needed to rest under the stars before attending the next morning’s pet parade set in the plaza. The triathlon that is Fiesta, is a much-needed week of parties, puppets, pets and parades before summer packs its own bags and departs for the year.

Ladies of Fiesta, Zoila Cleaver and Jesse Wardlow.

Where there’s a kitchen, there must be food.

A reunion of friends and family await the burning of Zozobra.

Jelly and her Zia nail art.

Nothing feels better than watching your gloom burn up in smoke.

As the park empties, the streets are flooded with Santa Feans as they trek back to their cars.