Truth be told, we are a bit traditional here. As such, we believe the Kiwanis Club’s desire to move the burning of Zozobra back to Friday night is one that deserves serious consideration. The burning of Zozobra on a Friday night has a number of advantages, all of which, we understand, might pale in comparison to security concerns.
First, we like opening La Fiesta de Santa Fe with the 6 a.m. Friday Misa del Pregón, an early-morning Mass that serves as a reminder of the celebration’s deep religious roots, rather than the raucous atmosphere of Zozobra. More practically, we like not having to rush home after Old Man Gloom burns, worried about getting to bed so we can make it to work or get the kids to school on time the next day. We like the family atmosphere on a Friday; parents are more apt to take the children when they aren’t concerned about school the next day.
In fact, longtime Zozobra-goers claim that there’s a decent argument to be made that the atmosphere on the field during Thursday night burnings is more, not less, edgy. The annual burning was moved to Thursday nights in 1997, a reaction to a fatal shooting after that night’s burn. Today, more families appear to be staying home, both because of higher ticket prices and the inconvenience of Thursday night burns. From Zozobra’s high attendance of 33,000 in 1997, only about 15,000 attended the annual celebration earlier this year. To pay for both the costs of staging the event and to hand out grants and scholarships, as is Kiwanis tradition, is no easy task. High costs, in fact, are why ticket prices increased to a high of $20 at the gate. New Kiwanis President Ray Sandoval told city officials at a recent meeting that the civic club can’t keep ticket prices down and keep the event on Thursday night. It’s a matter of math: “We can raise ticket prices or raise attendance.” And Friday night, Sandoval said, offers the best chance to raise attendance — limiting numbers is not as essential as it once was either, because Fort Marcy has capacity for 31,000 people now, up from 25,000.
Law enforcement personnel are skeptical; they believe that covering Magers Field and the Plaza will stretch officers too thin on the Friday night of Fiesta. A smaller Zozobra crowd is good news, so far as they are concerned. Again, as the City Council decides whether a move is in the best interests of the city, we would urge councilors to ask hard questions — whether of the Kiwanis Club or of public safety officials. It’s not enough for Sandoval to say, “We need to make more money,” or for Chief Ray Rael to say, “We have fewer complaints on Thursday night.” Show some facts and figures, and let Sandoval explain more fully his ideas to make Zozobra work on Friday night before eliminating the idea completely. Most importantly, the price of admission needs to come down so that Santa Fe’s families can afford to bring the whole crew. We suspect that can be done on Thursday night, but if it can be made safe and secure, we would love to see Zozobra return to Friday night. Of course, that is a big if — but one worthy of consideration.