Despite appearances to the contrary, the residents of Santa Fe, New Mexico swear that the annual burning of a giant 50 foot tall marionette named Zozobra is not some kind of religious rite. Dating from 1924, the festival coincides -and replaces - the Fiesta de Santa Fe which commemorated the retaking of the city from Pueblo occupiers.Santa Fe artist and marionette maker Gustave Baumann came up with the idea of building "Old Man Gloom" or Zozobra (anxiety in Spanish).
Residents of the city write down their cares and woes and deposit them in boxes through out the city. The Kiwanis Club gathers these and they go along with messages and other items taken directly to the site, including shredded police reports from the SFPD. An average of 50,000 (in a city of 70,000) people buy tickets and attend every year. On the night of the burning Zozobra looms over the crowd, waving its arms and moaning to chants of "BURN IT", along with music and fireworks, before being consumed. Some years Zozobra wears the face of particularly unpopular people although mostly just his hair color changes.
(you may want to skip to 10:30 for the actual burning)
After the crowds have gone the organizers roast marshmallows on the dying embers.
Note some of the statements in the article:
Event chairman Raymond Sandoval acknowledges that there is a dark side to the burning. "Zozobra is our scapegoat," he says. "There is a violence to burning this fifty foot effigy."
"Whether it works or not, at least for that night, their gloom is gone. It's been lifted," says Kiwanis Secretary Kenneth Garley. While the battle against the gloom in our lives is ongoing, he says, Zozobra offers the often disparate threads of the community a reason to come together, and a momentary escape from the pain of everyday life.
"Then we have to face the realities of the world the next day," he says. "But you know, for at least that night it's a celebration that things can get better, and will get better for all of us."
So, we have a period of preparation during which people offer laments for sacrifice by fire while the idol is prepared. The idol is filled with prayers and ritually burned to the cheers of the crowds and music. It coincides with religious observances. It is believed to take away the burdens of the populous. Those who prepare the ritual take part in a special meal over the sacred fire at the end of the ritual.
Nope, not a pagan rite at all.
Neither is the Christmas tree or Easter Bunny.