Despite the fact that it occurs right after All Hallow's Eve, the annual All Souls Procession in Tucson is by no means a Halloween-oriented celebration. Indeed, there are few connections between the yearly exercise in candy and costumed excess and this esteemed Day of the Dead-themed Southern Arizona celebration, except that both are concurrent on the calendar and have meandering roots in Catholic culture.
The All Souls Procession is more of a sacred and emotionally tinged event. It has been held every year on the first Sunday in November since its founding in 1990, and the event draws more than 100,000 people to the streets of downtown Tucson to honor those who have passed to the great beyond or to celebrate Día de los Muertos.
It's the biggest Day of the Dead event in Arizona, if not the Southwest, and includes people from every walk of life, as well as a significant amount of Valley residents who make the two-hour trip to the Old Pueblo to participate in the three-mile trek along with a crowd of artists, performers, musicians, students, freaks, geeks, and anyone else eager to join in.
It's always been of a particularly vibrant and arty bent, thanks to the various memorials, altars, costumes, and colorful displays that are created for the event. It's a lot to take in all at once, as evidenced by something we overheard a fellow attendee say while witnessing the 2013 version of the procession this past Sunday.
"There's just so much to see," they said. "It's overwhelming."
Indeed it is. That is why we put together a list of our favorite parts of the All Souls Procession for easier consumption.
The Memorials The raison d'être behind the entire event. Every year, tens of thousands of participants pay tribute to the dearly departed, and it's one of the most poignant and evocative aspects of the procession. Some tributes involved pinning pictures to clothing, carrying photos of loved ones, or even crafting mobile altars.
Tributes and memorials at the event also took the form of more abstract, thematic, or metaphorical concepts, such as a troupe of people wearing monarch butterfly wings in honor of the endangered insect or a few attendees carrying signs for the immigrants who have perished while crossing the Arizona desert. One individual also carried a sign paying homage to the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who perished in the Yarnell Hill fire.
The Puppets Memorials also took the form of gigantic puppets that were held aloft and loomed over the crowd throughout the procession. Many were inspired by Chicano or folkloric art and were quite breathtaking, including a pair of skeleton angels that engaged in an aerial ballet.
Others were more evocative of the Day of the Dead theme, such as the 11-foot-tall skull puppet created by Marie Rosas in honor of several of her relatives who passed away earlier this year..
The Floats Rolling along within the procession were many large floats or mobile art pieces that similarly memorialized the deceased or just embodied the spirit of celebration. Taja Alcantara, for instance, constructed a large effigy of a Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle in remembrance of her late fiancé who died after being hit by street racers more than 15 years ago.
Friends, fans, and relatives of Bisbee musicians Amy and Derrick Ross, who performed as Nowhere Man And A Whiskey Girl and sadly passed away last month, pushed a 10-foot-long float that paid tribute to the late couple.
Susan Johnson, the Tucson artist who founded the procession in 1990, maneuvered a smaller float adorned with a large dragon's head in tribute to the creative spirit. And the geeks and tech-heads of the Tucson's Xerocraft Hackerspace transformed a go-kart into a giant travelling skull on wheels teeming with glowing LED lights.
The Costumes At most, we spotted only two or three people sporting what appeared to be leftover Halloween costumes during the procession -- including one dude wearing a yellow hazmat suit to "mourn" the loss of Walter White/Heisenberg -- which should drive home the point that the event is inspired by the Day of the Dead. As such, most participants wore sugar skull face paint and outfits befitting the holiday's Hispanic roots, ranging from mariachi and folkloric-inspired clothing to Victorian-like ensembles.
The Performances The All Souls Procession typically features performances and music throughout the entirety of the event every year, and they tend to attract a significant amount of attention. Like when dance troupes like San Francisco's Carpetbag Brigade or the Columbian theatrical ensemble Nemcatacoa Teatro kicked off the event with sacred and symbolic ceremonies illustrating the interplay of good and evil during the beginning of the procession.
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Both marching bands and dance acts like the Capoeira group Sol Axé or Danza Azteca Calpulli Tonantzin were also included in the event and continued performing after the parade began its crawl through Tucson. One of our favorite moments was when the Death's Head Pipe and Drum band fittingly performed a stirring version of "Amazing Grace." It earned some serious applause from the crowd.
Arguably the climax of every procession is the visual feast put on by Tucson performance troupe Flam Chen at the end of the procession, which features a maelstrom of astonishing and brain-bending stunts of the aerial and fire-dancing variety. It serves as a fantastic end to a spectacular evening.