Mammograms. Divorce papers. Bloody clothes. Cremated human remains.

These are some of the more notable items I've received over the last 15 or so years working at the Gloom table at Zozobra. Of course, many people also just show up ready to write a few notes exorcising their darkest thoughts. Then, just before the burn, a crew of us haul it all up to deposit at Old Man Gloom's base. When he burns, so go all the sad mementos, heart-filled notes and angry scrawls.

For 2020, the 96th burn, the gloom overfloweth and so the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe had to devise a way to ensure people could participate in the annual ritual catharsis.

Enter Burn My Gloom, a web-based submission page allowing anyone anywhere to submit their gloom for just $1. The proceeds will benefit local nonprofits serving children, and 20% are earmarked for The Eliminate Project, an initiative from Kiwanis International and UNICEF to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus.

But what about those divorce/bankruptcy/termination papers you want to burn? Not to worry. For a $5 upgrade, you can also upload photos and documents for the burn. For an extra buck, you can even specify where in Zozobra you want your items placed (head, arm, the spot where the heart would be if Old Man Gloom possessed one?).

All submissions will be printed out and stuffed inside Zozobra pre-burning.

Zozobra Event Committee Chair Ray Sandoval says the virtual gloom plan evolved once the Kiwanis Club realized the annual event needed to happen, pandemic or not, and needed to happen safely. At first, Sandoval envisioned perhaps a first-come first-serve event, or perhaps one for first responders but realized, "I was subtracting instead of adding and this whole event is about adding."

As such, Zozobra will be a crowd-free event, instead airing both online and on KOAT Channel 7 at 8 pm, Friday, Sept. 4, with lots of close-up and behind-the-scenes action providing, likely, a more intimate view than many will have had before (last year's admission prices were $10 for adults/kids under 10 free with a crowd estimated at more than 60,000 people).

The author collecting gloom circa 2013. Photo by Frank X Cordero
The author collecting gloom circa 2013. Photo by Frank X Cordero

Once the plan was in place to "take it on the chin and provide it for free," Sandoval says, organizers began considering how they might also raise money. After all, Zozobra isn't just the annual ritual burning of a 50-foot tall marionette signifying all the woe in the world. It's also a fundraiser whose proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving youth. Past recipients have included Cooking with Kids, Girls Inc. and Santa Fe Dreamers Project, to name just a few.

"We have a secondary promise to raise money for kids," Sandoval says (the first is to produce Zozobra safely for the city, a responsibility creator Will Shuster assigned the Santa Fe Kiwanis in 1964). The COVID-19 pandemic, Sandoval notes, has also made local nonprofits' own fundraising difficult. So knowing the event itself would be free, Sandoval and company decided to charge for online glooms, as well as a slew of Zozobra merchandise.

While submitting glooms has been free for many years, the move is not unprecedented. In the 1960s, Shuster invited members of Nell's Service Club (a social club) to make miniature paper Zozobras that were sold to raise money for the club and could also be burned away for further gloom eradication.

A 1967 article discusses Nell’s Service Club’s gloom-making endeavor. Courtesy Santa Fe Kiwanis
A 1967 article discusses Nell’s Service Club’s gloom-making endeavor. Courtesy Santa Fe Kiwanis

Not only can people submit their own glooms for a buck, but they can also gift glooms to others, opening up the tradition to the entire COVID-19 infested world.

"We really think there's enough gloom in the world," Sandoval said. "We could do a really good job of helping everyone." Indeed, the site launched July 7 and had received 1,000 glooms on its first day alone. And that $1 also buys you a certificate of destruction post-gloom.

As everyone who has worked or visited the Gloom table knows, privacy is paramount. In other words, no peeking at people's glooms. Sandoval says privacy will be respected, but submitters also have the option of choosing to make their glooms public, in which case it could be displayed on Channel 7 during the night.

As for the ongoing decades project leading up to Zozobra's 100th birthday, it's on hiatus this year. "2020 has been so gloom filled it needs its own space," Sandoval says, noting that this year's Zozobra figure and the event itself will reflect the current craziness we're all experiencing. And look for lots of suggestions and add-ons for people to celebrate at home while watching the burn.

During my years at the Gloom table, I've seen folks who know exactly what they want burned in the fire and others who need some suggestions. This year, likely, our gloom is top of mind. But there's value in setting it down in writing.

"Especially right now, we're all itching to get back to our lives," Sandoval says. "We're probably getting on each other's nerves; we have a little bit of a short fuse. Take a moment of quiet reflection to think about how you want the world to be better—that starts inside of you."

In today's technology-driven world, he says, "I don't think we have enough of this. Zozobra is a real example of the idea of being cathartic."

People sometimes ask Sandoval if Zozobra glorifies violence (what with the screaming and the burning and all), and it's a question Sandoval has thought about deeply. "Zozobra is a specter, he's a ghost, he's a manifestation of the negative energy that we create as human beings." The fire spirit who takes him on "also is the manifestation of the goodness. There is a battle inside each and everyone of us and we have to decide who's going to win out."

Come rain, shine or pandemic, Zozobra will burn. Courtesy Santa Fe Kiwanis
Come rain, shine or pandemic, Zozobra will burn. Courtesy Santa Fe Kiwanis

First-timer? No worries. Read up on Zozobra's history here.

Need gear? Zozobra face masks, T-shirts and much more can be purchased online as well.