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All Souls Procession: Tucson’s Day of the Dead

In Mexico, it’s traditional to honor the deceased with a parade on a holiday called Dia de los Muertos, AKA the Day of the Dead. In Tucson, we call it the All Souls Procession, and it’s been a tradition here since 1990. This parade is considered to be one of the most inclusive and authentic public ceremonies in North America today, and tourists from all over the world flock to Tucson to be a part of it.

The All Souls Procession is not like any parade you’ve seen before, performance artists, dancers, and various groups collaborate to create a series of floats and banners and performances. When the parade makes its way through the streets of downtown Tucson, you’ll see marching drum circles, dancers, musicians, performers on stilts in addition to the colorful floats. But one of the best parts of this inclusive celebration is that anyone can join.The parade is also completely family-friendly, so bring everyone! Whether you show up in costume with an alter created to honor someone you’ve lost, or you’re simply inspired to join, anyone can join the parade and march along towards the big finale.

At the end of most parades, there’s not much to behold; it’s just the end of the event. When the Procession finally reaches its destination, revelers are greeted by a huge stage that holds a massive urn. Old photos of departed loved one are projected onto walls as several performance groups give their all on stage: performances dedicated to the dead. For the big finale, the urn, which contains letters, photos, and prayers collected from the revelers as offerings to the dead, is lit on fire. In this final, symbolic gesture, the messages for the deceased are sent to the spirit world. It’s a massive celebration honoring the lives of the deceased, and even for those not in mourning, the parade is one of the most spectacular celebrations in the country.

While the Procession is certainly influenced by the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos (you’ll see many revelers wearing “candy skull makeup.” This is a popular Mexican tradition), the organizers of the parade proudly welcome all traditions and cultures to take part. They encourage newcomers to bring their own traditions, or to start new ones, as part of their inclusive philosophy.

The All Souls Procession takes place one week after Halloween, on a Sunday every year. Whether you’re new to Tucson, or have lived here for years, if you haven’t seen this incredible nighttime ceremony, you haven’t seen Tucson yet. Though the parade borrows traditions from various cultures around the world, the All Souls Procession is created every year by Tucson’s citizens, and we’ve made it a tradition that is all our own.

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