If you are new to Tucson, you may be wondering what’s up with all the skulls and skeletons (many brightly decorated) still around town. Did people forget to take down their Halloween decorations? And why are so many still constructing skeletal costumes? The calaveras (sugar skulls) and calacas (skeletons) are traditional symbols of the Mexican celebration of Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. They represent loved ones who have passed on. They are also heavily represented in Tucson’s All Souls Procession.
Grieving the loss of her father, Susan Johnson sought a way to gather with others in a similar situation to “remember together”. In 1990, she and several of her artist friends got together and the first All Souls Procession made its way through downtown Tucson. Starting with a few hundred that first year, the celebration has drawn over 150,000 participants and spectators in years past.
I have been part of this crowd several times, particularly in years when I had lost a loved one. While I have not walked the parade route, I have painted my face and included symbols to represent those whose lives I was remembering. I have laughed and cried while watching the individuals and groups march down the street. It has been very moving and cathartic to know that I was certainly not alone in my process.
The most significant part of the procession each time I have participated has been the Burning of the Urn. A very large steel urn leads the procession. Throughout the parade, attendants will distribute and collect strips of paper on which you can write a prayer or message to your deceased loved one. At the finale, the urn is set on fire. Watching the energy of the messages turn into fuel for the fire has always brought a great sense of release for me.
This year’s procession will begin at 6pm on Sunday, November 7. Visit their website for more info All Souls Procession – Remembering together. If you are not able to attend in person, you can participate virtually through a livestream All Souls Procession 2021 Livestream – All Souls Procession. You can submit your message to be included in the urn through their website Restoration of Care and Burning of The Urn Ceremony – All Souls Procession. You can watch previous years’ processions Videos – All Souls Procession.