Today, my Adolescent in American Society class put on a little fall festival for a local middle school. The goal behind the event was to create a space for students to learn about local cultures and their fall traditions. Overall, it was chilly, hectic, but fun. Going to classes about education tends to suck out all the reward involved in working with kids, so actually preparing an event, setting up an activity, and engaging with middle schoolers was a nice refresher.

For our group’s activity, we researched a tradition with origins in New Mexico and Mexico called “Zozobra.” The burning of the Zozobra is a yearly festival in Sante Fe that represents a time of renewal and cleansing from the past year. The effigy itself represents the negative feelings and events that plague the local community, so when it’s torched, those feelings are cast out to make room for a year of happiness and positivity.

During our class’s festival, we had the students make their own Zozobra’s out of paper bags and write down on the back the things in their community they didn’t like. Concrete ideas like “clowns,” “insects,” and “bees” were common, as well as representations of societal problems like sexism (conveyed through a nickname “the magic man”). Still other students wrote down their fears and feelings, such as “abandonment,” “neglected,” “depression,” and “hated.” Seeing these things expressed by middle schoolers made me sad that they have to face such obstacles, but I think it’s important that these feelings were dealt with in a cathartic, healthy way. The students were free to provide as much or as little self reflection as they felt comfortable.

The actual creation process was lively and positive, some students sharing loudly while others worked on their Zozobras off to the side. Then, once everyone had finished making their effigy, we rolled a grill over to a patch of concrete and lit a fire with some kindling. Students that had made their Zozobras gathered around as well as students attracted by the flames. One by one, we burned the “bad feelings.” My SO and group member Noah called attention to the purpose of the burning, literally and metaphorically “closing the lid” on all the bad feelings as he covered up the grill to put out the flames. One student even exclaimed “yes, bad feelings go away from me!”


I’m still processing the experience and working through the research notes I took on the occasion (my focus for the festival was on instruction of and interaction with female vs male students), but watching students grapple with and release negative emotions was comforting for myself as well. I don’t think that adolescents get enough credit for their ability to handle tough situations and feelings. We provided a “yes” to the channeling of these emotions (instead of a guided response meant to divert a tough situation or conversation) and I feel rewarded for doing so.



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