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by Mariah Feria

Halloween around the world: The all souls procession in Tucson

Across the globe, the period surrounding the end of the October and beginning of November is celebrated in various different ways. Whether it’s the Western idea of Halloween, or the Spanish speaking holiday of Dias de los Muertos, it cannot be argued that this time of the year has significant impact on how (and why) we celebrate the dead.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to be in Tucson (Arizona) at the time of the All Souls Procession – a huge parade that marches through the city and ends with a magical, fantastical ceremony at the close of the night. Although the procession is commonly associated with Dias de los Muertos (partly due to Tucson’s proximity to Mexico and its large Latin American community), the event organisers are keen to highlight it’s neutrality by not belonging to one particular culture or tradition.

This means that on the night, a huge variety of backgrounds gathered together to celebrate those who have left us. This involved a procession which started in the early evening, comprised of all sorts of costumes, music, and organisations highlighting particular groups. Spectators were also encouraged to march along with the procession, which turned into a livelier and colourful event the closer it got to the main stage of the night. A party in the streets meandered its way through Tucson, and one that was not short of interesting sights and exceptional fancy dress!

Each year, the organisers of the event also pick a theme. Although the underlying theme is of course to celebrate the deceased, a certain focus is given each year, highlighted by the ‘Spirit Groups’ (performers) in the final ‘show’ of the night. In 2015, the year that I attended the procession, the theme was ‘UnMournable Bodies’. A rather difficult and intriguing subject, you may think, and one that perhaps might not necessarily fit with a ‘celebration’. However, this is the beauty of the All Souls Procession; complex issues are raised and discussed through the form of song and dance, encouraging people to consider their own views on such controversial topics. For me personally, it also fits in with America’s society; we all know the issues of the gun laws that create vast ‘UnMournable Bodies’, and the many illegal immigrants that pass through America’s land borders can also fall into this diverse category. In a blog featured on the organisers website last year, the organizers explained the theme decision by writing ‘Who mourns the imprisoned, addicts, suicides, illegal immigrants, homeless, refugees, mentally ill, destitute, enemies of the state, civilian casualties of war? Who mourns those whom our culture turns away from? Who chooses whom we turn away from, and what happens when we turn to look at them, to remember and to mourn them, instead? What does it look like when we mourn them in the Finale Ceremony alongside the rest of our beloved dead?’

The Finale Ceremony included the ‘Spirit Groups’ donning the iconic orange jumpsuit, or branded with labels such as ‘criminal’ and ‘addict’, whilst performing on the stage. There was even a re-enactment of someone in the electric chair, again something that often divides American opinion. For me, it was interesting to see how another culture celebrates this important time of year, when supposedly the dead are at their closest to us. I encourage others to seek out alternative ways of experiencing Halloween this year – it’s certainly not all witches and ghouls!

Images courtesy of Mariah Feria.