The city of Tucson has a unique artistic culture and strong sense of community, which drive the traditions that the city values most—including the annual All Souls Procession. The procession takes place early each November during All Souls Weekend, which has been a tradition since the first procession was organized in 1990. This beautiful event brings together members of the community from all walks of life to mourn lost loved ones and recognize the diverse cultural influences of the city’s residents. Throughout the past 27 years, All Souls Weekend has evolved to become one of the largest events in Tucson, drawing crowds of over 150,000. Here’s a closer look at the roots of the All Souls Procession and its important place within Tucson’s culture.
A Grassroots Cultural Movement
The All Souls Procession began as a ceremonial performance piece orchestrated by local artist, Susan Johnson. She had designed the performance in honor of her father, who had passed away that year. Just one year later, there was widespread public interest in continuing the event to honor Tucson’s deceased, and permits were filed through the city to organize another gathering. As the ceremony grew larger, it included larger and larger sections of the community. Today, the procession includes a 2-mile parade route through downtown Tucson, which culminates with a large outdoor performance and gathering. Since 1995, it has been funded and organized through a dedicated non-profit organization called Many Mouths One Stomach, which is committed to continuing to hold the event with full inclusiveness and no admission for its attendees.
All Souls Weekend is often misrepresented as a part of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which is a holiday primarily celebrated in Southern and Central Mexico, emerging from Aztec traditions. In fact, All Souls is its own distinctive event that draws on the mourning rituals of many cultures and welcomes participants to bring their own traditions and artistic expression to the event. The timing of the procession was chosen because it is believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest at this time of year, which does coincide with the Dia de los Muertos. Throughout the All Souls Procession, you are likely to see calavera-style makeup and art, which depicts skulls and skeletons in colorful, ornate designs. Costumes, parade floats, and moving art pieces are also common in the procession and performance. If you attend, face painting and costumes are encouraged and welcomed, though many attendees will wear their normal clothes.
An All-Inclusive Ceremony
All members of the Tucson community, as well as visitors from around the world, are invited to come to the All Souls Procession, which begins at a gathering site downtown. Here, groups are organized in parade order before they walk to the final performance area in the slow-moving procession. The procession begins at dusk and it moves through downtown, gaining more and more followers as it passes on a 2-mile long route. Attendees may follow the procession from its start, or they might choose to tag along as the procession passes by viewing areas.
- The procession – On procession day, people will set up early downtown, finding the ideal places to watch the parade. Others will be organizing at the gathering area, preparing floats, musical numbers, and dances. Many families, organizations, and performing groups are featured in the procession, and guests can jump in at any time to become a part of the procession. For first time attendees, it is often best to set up along the procession route and join in as the end of the procession passes. This way, you can see the various photos, costumes, and floats in the procession before taking part yourself.
- The performers – As the procession ends and crowds gather around a large stage on Congress Street, vibrant performances begin on stage. Singing, fire spinning, acrobatics, and Native dances are all featured on the performance stage, which is brightly lit and centered on a large urn. Near the stage, there are food and gift vendors, artists, and many more attractions to explore.
- The urn – The All Souls Procession culminates with the burning of the urn, which is filled with prayers, poetry, scripture, pictures, and memories of lost loved ones. These contributions are largely gathered by parade volunteers, who provide small pieces of paper to the crowd and collect them in pots along the procession route. Burning the urn is representative of the great force of creation and destruction of fire, which characterizes the human experience and the cycle of life and death. It is truly a spectacle to behold following the emotional and moving ceremony. As the urn is lit, thousands of Tucsonans are connected in a moment of renewal and rebirth, capturing the spirit of the ceremony as it was intended.
Pennington Creative is proud to be a part of the downtown Tucson community, and we are excited to take part in the 2017 All Souls Procession. To learn more about what we do to help small businesses get noticed in Southern Arizona, check out our inbound marketing services or set up a discovery call with us today.