Just last month, Santa Feans celebrated that singular event that sets us apart from every other city. No, I’m not referring to adding our 4,000th yoga studio. No, not the opening of our new 24-hour drive-thru tattoo parlor, although that’s a good guess. I’m talking about Zozobra.
For those of you who don't get out much, every year around Labor Day Santa Fe builds this 50-foot-tall flammable man, who gets a little uglier each year. We've been doing this since 1924, so by now he is really, really ugly.
Then we invite people to write messages about their troubles, their betrayals and their bitter disappointments and bundle those up with unpaid bills, dunning notices, divorce papers, etc., and cram them into a "Gloom Box" that is then thrown inside Zozobra.
We set him up in Fort Marcy Park and 50,000 people gather around, and when it gets dark we set fire to the ugly dude. Poof! All those burdens go up in flames, along with the folks in the first few rows, and 25-30 neighboring houses. Oh, the humanity!
But here's something I have recently learned. There is confusion surrounding Zozobra. There are misconceptions galore. It turns out—and you could knock me over with a roadrunner feather—Zozobra isn't legit!
I know, right? Here is an actual phone conversation I had last week with an Internal Revenue Service agent.
"Mr. Basler, our records indicate you haven't prepared income tax returns for at least three years..."
"That's a load of horse crap! Of course I have!"
"Then why can't we find any record of them?"
"Because I burned them up in Zozobra! That's how we roll here in Santa Fe."
"That's not how we roll at the IRS, Mr. Basler. You still have to pay taxes, Zozobra or no Zozobra."
So I had been wasting my time. I had delivered a bulging trash bag full of tax returns, speeding tickets, DNA evidence, jury summons, temporary restraining orders, 3-foot-long receipts from CVS, all the stuff that's been bringing me down. It all went up in flames, for nothing!
But apparently I'm not the only one who's confused. There are others far more befuddled by our little annual ritual. The Blaze, an ultraconservative online news site, ran a video of Zozobra burning. Not to get too clinical here, but readers went apeshit. They quickly jumped to the only logical conclusion: that the event was an affront to Christianity.
One comment on their site said, "It seems Satanic. Christians and other faiths pray about their worries, not burn idols to get rid of them."
Another called Zozobra the "antithesis of Christianity."
Yet another Blaze reader quickly got to the heart of the matter, asking, "How many illegal Americans did it take to build that thing?"
But my favorite comments were from people who missed the mention of New Mexico, and actually thought the event they were watching was taking place in Mexico.
This Christian angle isn't new. According to a story in The New Mexican, for a number of years a Christian evangelical group stood outside the Scottish Rite Center passing out leaflets and loudly warning revelers about the devil and urging them to turn to God.
People, people, people. Lighten the hell up.
Look, if these Christians are right, and Santa Fe is on an express bus to hell, here's something you should know about me: I'm totally licensed to drive that bus. All aboard, baby!
Robert Basler's humor column runs twice monthly in SFR. Email the author: email@example.com