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Photos: All Souls Procession returns to Tucson

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Thousands attended the 32nd All Souls Procession, marking the return of event after it went virtual last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. - Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

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Streaming along the streets of Tucson, thousands walked along Bonita Avenue parallel to the Santa Cruz River on Sunday night, many in costume with their faces painted to remember lost loved ones, as part of the 2021 All Souls Procession.

This was the 32nd All Souls Procession, and Sunday night marked the return of the live, in-person event, which went virtual last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

A violinist in a golden dress led the procession, which followed the urn—a giant metal vessel filled with messages for the dead written by those in attendance—along the city's streets. Following the urn, Kodo drummers kept a beat, and behind them a crowd of thousands walked the route.

Backed by thrumming music, banging drums, thousands walked through the streets, many dressed in funeral finery, their faces painted to look like grinning skulls, make-up that follows the design of La Calavera Catrina, or "dapper skull," an imagery of death originally based on a zinc etching by a Mexican print-maker and illustrator made in 1913.

A Tucson tradition for more than 30 years, the procession began when artist Susan K. Johnson started the ceremonial walk to remember her late father. The event is a mixture of customs, including many aspects of the Mexican holiday El Dia De Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.

Since then the procession has grown by leaps and bounds. Many Mouths One Stomach, the art collective that now organizes the event, estimated that as many as 150,000 people attended 2018's gathering, participating in the walk or watching it pass through the streets.

Each year, many participants carry signs, photos, or other items of special significance marking the lives of those who have died. Along the route, some people placed altars representing lost loved ones.

The procession is entirely funded by donations, and each year, the group works to raise money to put on the event, which includes dozens of volunteers, dancers, ushers, and music. The group also covers the cost of having Tucson police officers on hand to close streets and direct traffic.

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This is the third time that the procession has made its way along the river walk, after decamping from its previous route beginning at 6th Avenue and winding through Downtown.

Finally, the procession stopped at the Mercado San Agustin where a non-religious ceremony marked the end.

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