All Souls Procession, Steeped in Tradition, Takes Place This Weekend in Downtown

October 28, 2013


All Souls procession is a time to honor and celebrate those who have been lost.

by James J. Jefferies

This Sunday, November 3rd, the 24th Annual All Souls Procession will wind its way through Downtown Tucson once again. In the early 1990s, this event began as a small, invitation-only procession with just a few hundred people, according to organizer Nadia Hagen, who began her journey with the event around 1996. “I came from a background of working on tribal-industrial shows, big concerts,” said Hagen. “I felt as though there was an opportunity here to turn this event into something more open and expressive.” Nearly a generation later, there’s ample evidence to support this assertion, as this year’s event is expected to attract nearly 100,000 participants.

The seed for this event has its roots firmly planted in Day Of The Dead (Dia de los Muertos) holiday rituals from Mexico and Latin America, a way for people to honor the loved ones they’ve lost. On this holiday, families typically decorate the graves of the deceased, bringing offerings of flowers, candies, liquor, toys (for children), anything that the departed may have found a pleasant gift. Skulls (calaveras) are prominent imagery in these offerings, and are made from sugar, or fashioned from specially baked breads. Anecdotes and stories are offered as tributes to those lost, and are often rich with humor, much in the vein of an Irish wake, as people reflect and celebrate the lives of those they dearly miss.


Thousands pack the streets every year for the All Souls Procession.

All Souls Procession is steeped in those traditions, especially from an aesthetic standpoint, but certainly isn’t bound to them. Participants openly mourn the departed in countless somber, poignant, reflective, and funny ways. From those walking along while wearing elaborate traditional makeup, to more industrious procession-goers who choose to build extravagant puppets, sculptures, and just about anything you can think of strapped to a set of wheels. Every year, one can witness a wildly anarchic mix of inspired creations and rolling performances. The sense of humor, as expressed with the anecdotes in the traditional holiday, also has been retained, if not expounded upon with an intensely artistic fervor. “One of my favorite things ever was the year the nerds made paper-mache Plutos,” said Hagen, referring to the year when Pluto was downgraded from planet to mere ‘dwarf planet’, causing grieving astronomers to use the All Souls Procession in 2008 as an opportunity to openly mourn the demotion.

It is this incredibly open allowance for expression, completely free of any kind of pre-conceived expectations, that has allowed the procession to grow to six figures. “Totally my favorite Tucson event,” remarks Tucson resident Jenn Cabrera, who has attended the procession for 11 years. “For me, it’s to honor the dead in a celebratory way. There’s nothing else like it, the music, the singing, the dancing…crying at times.” This emotional component of All Souls, combined with the artistic streak exhibited by procession-goers, may be the key to its ever-explosive popularity. “(All Souls) is a counterpoint to our very flat modern modes of expression,” said Hagen. “People need to have things to be inspired by… All Souls is ridiculously democratic.”


Floats, puppets and other artistic creations abound at the All Souls procession.

It is this community-driven, fiercely independent spirit that drives the organizational effort behind the procession. Many Mouths One Stomach is the 501(c)3 non-profit arts collective that is the parent organization of the All Souls Procession. They put on a variety of events all year to help raise money to keep the event going strong, a challenge given the procession’s growing popularity. “This is owned by everyone,” said Hagen. “If everyone that came to the procession gave a dollar, we’d be golden.” This year, there are new elements to the procession, with a brand-new finale site on West Congress, and special musical guests A Tribe Called Red (Ottowa, Canada),  Danza Azteca Calpulli Tonantzin (Tucson, AZ), The Carpetbag Brigade (San Francisco, CA), and Nemcatacoa Teatro (Colombia), in addition to other musical acts that will all be present at the Grand Finale.

All Souls Procession reflects the best traits of the spirit of Downtown Tucson. It is an open and welcoming event, forged by the rich Latin heritage of the region, and a vehicle for expression to celebrate the lives of those that participants may have lost. It is certainly a vibrant Tucson institution whose scope only seems to grow with each passing year. For more information, go to their website or find All Souls Procession on Facebook.