A First-Timer's Guide to Tucson's All Soul Procession

Every year, 100,000 people come together at Tucson’s annual All Souls Procession. November 3-5th will mark the festival's 28th year. A tradition that originated as a way to support local artists and commemorate the lore of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, the moving carnival includes artists, performers, musicians, and mourners who have equally molded the event into an inclusive platform for participants where anything goes.

A walking “party” that began as a way to honor those who have passed has slowly morphed over the years to become a visual feast. Years past have included fire dancers and marching bands, guised by skeletal make-up. Dance troupes like the Columbian group and Nemcatacoa Teatro combine forces at the beginning of the procession with other international groups to kick-off the event with symbolic flare. Puppetry hovering over the crowds on long poles and parade floats embody the spirit of celebration. And the costumes become an entity unto themselves, each one seemingly outdoing the next. 

There is so much to see at the weekend-long event that participants may feel overwhelmed. For a full list of procession events you can check out their website as well as information on how to purchase tickets for the headlining concert on Friday. The Procession of Little Angels, for children and families on Saturday, is free and offers a mini-parade with workshops and a performance by Tucson Circus Arts.

Neighborhoods.com has put together some helpful hints on how to experience the event if you are a first timer in order to take advantage of all the sights and sounds. Though much of what can be experienced is hard to put into words and really must be seen to be believed, these tips should make for a memorable and otherworldly experience.

Dress the Part

Let’s start with the costumes. Planning your costume ahead of time is important -- you don’t want to look like you’ve recycled last year’s Halloween garb. This is a time to express yourself and to dress with abandon. Many Mouths One Stomach, the non-profit arts collective and organizers of the event, advise stepping out of yourregular regimen and persona.” There are multiple locations at the festival to get your face painted in the traditional calavera de azucar (sugar skull) or Catrina (regular skull) styles — the most iconic symbol of Dia de los Muertos—but lines get long, so prepare to arrive early. Both Hotel Congress and Maynards in Downtown Tucson will offer free face painting for children from noon to midnight.

The Route

Photo Courtesy of Tucson Homeskillet

The procession march is a total of about 1.5 miles but the party lasts a lot longer than that. Be sure to arrive early since this year the procession route has changed to the historic Barrio HollywoodChoosing to go through the “liquid heart of the city,” the new route parallels the Santa Cruz River. The procession begins on Grande Avenue and will flow around the Garden of Gethsemane, a collection of statues by artist-sculptor, Felix Lucero. The finale will end at the Mercado San Augustin, Tucson’s only public marketplace. Marchers can walk south of Congress Street and take the stairs at Cushing Street to the finale, where they can take in the festival’s myriad acts and talents.

Where to Eat

Starting on Grande Avenue just south of Speedway Boulevard, there is a treasure trove of Mexican restaurants. Barista del Barrio offers a quiet patio and flavorful tamales, while Mariscos Chihuahua, just across the street, offers fresh ceviche in homemade tostadas. Both can get a little crowded -- expect that to triple the day of the procession.

Where to Stay

The Big Blue House Inn / Courtesy of 144 University

Though the procession and finale usually take place on the Sunday after Halloween, there are multiple events occurring that might entice you to stay in town for the weekend. For a resort experience, try the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa in West Tucson, or the quirky bed and breakfast, The Big Blue House Inn, in the University neighborhood. 

A Good Cause

Feel free to donate. Along the procession, you may see large hats making their way around. This is your time to contribute to the event. Since the event is free, many people go above and beyond in showing their support. At the end of the procession, there will be a final ceremony with plenty of performances and the burning of the urn, a mascot that holds the good wishes and intents of those in attendance, on the final stage. To get a close-up of this and the performances, a $1,000 donation will earn you two seats at the limited sponsor seating area. The cost is free to slip your piece of paper into the urn during the procession. 

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