The All Souls Procession has become Tucson’s principal fall holiday, with tens of thousands of people taking part.

A.E. Araiza / Arizona Daily Star 2010

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Forget Halloween — Tucson’s major fall holiday is All Souls’ Day.

Each year, on the Sunday closest to Nov. 2, the streets of downtown Tucson fill with face-painted and costumed walkers and artfully designed puppets.

The event began as a performance-art piece in 1990 and has grown steadily into a 2-mile procession of 40,000 or more people that culminates in an acrobatic fire show and the burning of an urn filled with prayers and wishes for deceased friends and relatives.

The website of Many Mouths One Stomach, the arts collective that organizes the procession, describes it like this:

“The All Souls Procession is an event that was created to serve the public need to mourn, reflect, and celebrate the universal experience of Death, through their ancestors, loved ones, and the living.”

It was inspired by the Mexican tradition of gathering at cemeteries on Dia de los Muertos to honor the dead with gifts of flowers, sugar skulls and favorite foods.

It is also a time to clean the cemeteries, repaint the crosses and picnic with family and friends.

Tucson’s procession, like the Mexican tradition, is a mix of the somber and the festive — an embrace of death as a natural part of life.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at or 573-4158.