Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

The All Souls Procession

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A young dancer performs at the 2013 All Souls Procession finale. Photo: SUSAN K. TISS

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The unique All Souls Procession in Tucson, Arizona, draws its inspiration from the traditional Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Launched in 1990 as a performance piece by local artist Susan Johnson to commemorate her late father, it has grown to become a two-day event that melds a myriad of cultural traditions to honor the dead—drawing over 20,000 participants from across the United States and Mexico.

This year’s Procession, which takes place the weekend after Día de los Muertos, will kick off with the family-friendly Procession of Little Angels on Saturday, November 8. In Armory Park, families will get a chance to build altars, children can celebrate by getting their faces painted with a traditional calavera (skull), or decorate sugar calaveras of their own.

The main event, organized by the nonprofit Many Mouths One Stomach, a collective of artists, teachers and community activists committed to creating and perpetuating modern culture, won’t get under way until the following day. Participants don their masks and costumes, set up altars and floats, and place prayers, messages and offerings into a large urn in preparation for the two-mile trek through downtown Tucson.

The parade culminates at the Mercado San Agustin with the burning of the urn, which “draws on the ancient ritual use of fire to transform the hopes, prayers, remembrances, and messages that participants place into it and sends them on or lets them go,” says volunteer coordinator Melanie Cooley. With over 250 volunteers working more than 3,000 hours, the 25th anniversary of Tucson’s All Souls Procession promises to be a weekend to remember.

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