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The Chaotic Beauty of All Souls Procession

250 volunteers, fundraisers on stilts and a community come together to create a weekend of mourning, creativity and celebration.

Nearly every city has a great event, something that captures the soul of the place, an essential part of the cultural landscape. In Tucson, the All Souls Procession goes a little beyond that. Yes, there’s something distinctly connected to the area’s borderlands culture, combining the myriad influences colliding in Southern Arizona. But there’s something about All Souls, generally held the Sunday following Halloween (although sometimes a week later), that’s different, bigger, more meaningful. What brings around 100,000 people into the streets of downtown Tucson to celebrate loss, life and the meaning of it all? Why do people spend half a year or more creating art pieces to walk through the Procession’s route? Without corporate sponsorship or big money donors, why do the organizers come back each year to create this colossal event again?

The simple answer: There’s something magical about the All Souls Procession.

 


 

In 1990, Tucson artist Susan Johnson, inspired by the Dia de los Muertos holiday that has crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S., decided to honor her father with a performance that mixed “celebration and creativity,” as the All Souls website puts it. From there, local artists kept adding to the festivities and piece by piece, the event became the community-built spectacle it is today. It takes around 250 volunteers to make this happen. The urn-keeper who cleans and prepares the metal container in which thousands of participants and spectators drop their prayers and wishes for catharsis. The high schoolers who help construct wings for the Procession of Little Angels the afternoon before the main event. The “Hungry Ghosts” who walk the route taking in donations to keep the event alive. 


 

Video Playlist: All Souls Procession


 

Yet, there’s no entry fee, no barrier to be a part of the Procession. Just show up.

 

And people show up to experience the Procession in countless ways, in street clothes or fully in costume. Faces painted or just there to witness. A pipe and drum band, sporting a likely unique combination of kilts and calavera face paint, performing “Amazing Grace.” A man walking down the street in a suit, a shrine contained within a backpack following him. A group might be walking for a deceased co-worker or for an endangered animal. From the abstract to the deeply personal, if you’re feeling loss, this is an opportunity to join those feeling it as well.

That isn’t to say there isn’t a celebration involved as well and that’s seen best in the finale of the Procession, held on the westside of Tucson’s downtown area, next to the Mercado San Agustin and basically the spiritual home of our city. Performance art group Flam Chen light up the night sky with flames and acrobatics, with over a hundred dancers, drummers and musicians filling the stage and the air above it. Then, as the contents of the urn are set ablaze, the messages and thoughts it once contained rise up as well, with a crane lifting the urn 30 feet up for all to see.

The Procession comes to an end, with hugs, tears and prayers. In a few months, the preparations will begin again to create another year of experiences that just can’t happen anywhere else but on the streets of Tucson in early November.


 

Video: 2016 All Souls Procession Live Stream


 

 

Dia de los Muertos: A Celebration of Life by Tim Vanderpool


Discover authentic Tucson and the freedom to be yourself. Enjoy "Día de Los Muertos – A Celebration of Life," by Tim Vanderpool, about how a Tucson tradition with roots south of the border welcomes a range of revelers every year during the All Souls Procession.

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