Missing Burning Man? Head to New Mexico for Zozobra instead

A ritual held in Santa Fe where in a 55-foot-tall man is set ablaze sounds like a good alternative to Black Rock City this weekend.

What’s that noise? Could it be the sound of birds chirping and the wind whistling through the trees? How come I’m not having a panic attack just from driving Downtown? That must mean — yes! Burning Man is happening, and much of the Bay Area has emptied itself into the Nevada desert to play, create, and dance in the sand while I kick myself for yet another year in a row for not having the wherewithal to buy a ticket and join a camp.

Instead of thinking about how brunch lines will be shorter but being too lazy to do anything about it, I’m headed to the Burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe on Friday, Sept. 1, to join up with other revelers who have been burning a man for decades before The Playa was a known quantity.

Zozobra, or Old Man Gloom, represents darkness and despair: He’s the enemy of all that is good. And for this he must be killed. Which is why, for the past 93 years, the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe have kicked off with the erection a giant man roughly 55 feet high, then burning the mofo down in a “part-celebration-part-esoteric ritual” that represents “community, personal catharsis, and local mythology.” Somehow, this festival has stayed under the radar even in the age of rampant social-media sharing, so it’s a good time to get in before the secret’s out of New Mexico.

There are plenty of parallels between this burning man and Burning Man. Both take place in the desert. Both attract partiers and people committed to having a good time. Both create a world of immersive art and interactive theater, culminating in the immolation of a human figure. Personally I’m hoping that this year’s Zozobra might be rocking an orange toupee. Just like on The Playa, Zozobra attendees can expect to deepen connections with their fellow man while making conscious decisions to live a more hopeful life.

But unlike at Burning Man, hotels and Airbnbs with showers are readily available in Santa Fe. Also, it only costs $10 to attend. And it’s green chile season.

To really capture that Burning Man spirit, anyone heading to Zozobra should take some time to check out Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, an interactive, immersive art experience that reflects the collaboration of over 100 artists. At times the imaginative art at Meow Wolf feels very similar to the installations at Burning Man, but it’s definitely its own thing. They are sponsoring Zozobra this year, which is a no brainer considering the shared values between the festival and the museum.

If you’re not yet convinced to cancel your plans to enjoy an empty Dolores Park in favor of Zozobra, just check out this drone footage of the burn from two years ago:


See you there!

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