A Better Halloween

Halloween never made sense to me – dress your kids in scary costumes to go out in the dark and extort candy from the neighbors? The costumes could be fun, but scariness and downright horror seem to be the object. Really –

In Tucson I discovered Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, which is in concept closer to the original All Soul’s Day of November 1 and it’s traditionally celebrated more as a family memorial day. Mexican families pack a picnic with tamales and skull-shaped sugar cookies and head for the cemetery to tidy up and celebrate with their dead loved ones, tell them stories and bring them pictures and gifts. It’s not doleful, it’s a party.

Then it got better. In 1990 Susan  Johnson, a local performance artist, was mourning the death of her father and decided to do a celebration of his life with art and a party. It was such a success that they repeated it the next year and it grew. Now all these years later it attracts some 35,000 people and has become the All Souls Procession.

People begin to gather on 4th Avenue in late afternoon, some come early to get their faces painted in traditional spooky skulls or more artfully by face artists who have set up shop on the sidewalk for the afternoon. Young or old they come in costumes, simple or elaborate or not, they come with pictures of dead loved ones, single portraits or mini-museums, they come with puppets, works of art and musical instruments – drums, horns, flutes, mariachis, bagpipes! They gather in pairs and groups for the two mile route through downtown. Anyone can join the walk, there’s no cost.  And it is a walk, all non-motorized.

Stewards patrol the marchers and the onlookers and pass out bits of paper and pencils for them to write messages of love, hope, forgiveness, aspiration and inspiration which are then folded and returned to be added to the big urn at the end of the walk, burned and sent off to the spirit world.

Their website 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.”

While the occasion is respectful and full of potential meaning, the mood is festive, not somber. There is dancing and singing and celebration. Tucson’s own Mardi Gras.

For me, that beats walking dead mummies and even Milky Way bars every time.

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