On Sunday, a river of emotion will flood streets parallel to the Santa Cruz as the 29th All Souls Procession makes its way toward the Mercado San Agustín.
The unique annual procession teems with both grief and joy as around 120,000 participants celebrate loved ones lost.
Organized by the local nonprofit Many Mouths One Stomach, the All Souls Procession is open to anyone. For the second year, the route will flow west of the Santa Cruz River and conclude near the Mercado, with a finale ceremony including performers from Tucson Circus Arts, Flam Chen and the Tucson band XIXA. The Sky Islands theme this year explores the relationship between consumerism and isolation.
"This is a collective, communal gathering," says Melanie Cooley, the procession's volunteer coordinator. "Each person is responsible for their individual experience and that of the collective whole. It's not a consumer experience. When you come, you are coming as a co-creator of the experience."
So how do you do that? Cooley gave us some pointers.
Here are five ways to make your experience at the All Souls Procession more meaningful.
Do some thinking before you come.
You'll get the most out of the procession if you walk with purpose. So consider who — or what — you're honoring and mourning before you arrive.
People use the procession to mourn deceased loved ones, lost relationships, transitions, forgone opportunities, pets and whatever else we grieve as humans. Reflecting on why you walk will better connect you with the others around you, Cooley says.
"Your reasons, the heart of why you're there in that space, will help you find the compassion to realize that almost everybody else there is there for some equally heartfelt reason," she says. "And then attempt to operate from that window of compassion for yourself and others in the street."
A reflective All Souls Procession experience is going to have a rocky start if you bungle parking. Don't try to park near the starting point (Grande Avenue, south of Speedway) or in any of the surrounding neighborhoods. You'll likely strike out.
Instead, Cooley suggests parking downtown. You can catch a Sun Tran bus from the Ronstadt Transit Center, 215 E. Congress St., that will drop you off near the procession gathering point. Walk the route and then hop on the streetcar near the Mercado to get back downtown. Buy your passes in advance.
Bonus: Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St., has free face painting from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
You can also park near the Mercado and walk to the starting point — roughly 1.5 miles one way. Just know this means you're basically walking the route twice.
"We're in city streets and then on an unpaved lot," Cooley says. "Wear comfy shoes, bring a flashlight or have lights on your costume, bring a water bottle, have your phone fully charged and be sober."
Know your limits.
The route makes for about a 1.5-mile walk. You can join the procession at any point. It will be crowded, and it will get dark.
If you do need to watch instead of walk, skip the super crowded gathering area and watch somewhere along Bonita Avenue. Cooley says the beginning and end of the route get congested.
The route will split near the Garden of Gethsemane, with one path diverging toward the river. If you opt for that path, you'll be treated to art installations and small altars honoring the dead. Make sure to bring a flashlight, and if stairs are a problem, opt for the other route. Both will get you to the finale site.
This is not a parade or a festival. It's a community procession.
As Cooley says, "We create the container as organizers. You fill it." That means participating — whether that's walking the route, attending the finale, slipping a message into the urn or donating to Many Mouths One Stomach.
Dress up. Paint your face. Make art to remember the dead.
The urn that leads the procession — and is ignited to conclude the finale — carries messages, prayers and memories of loved ones. You can add yours at the procession or in advance. The urn is currently at the MSA Annex, 267 S. Avenida del Convento, until Thursday evening or you can submit your remembrances online at allsoulsprocession.org/projects/the-urn.
You can also donate to the procession the day of or online.
"This is not a spectator experience," Cooley says. "It's really designed for people to walk or roll or however they move down the street to participate ... It's not going to look like a parade when it goes by. That giant crowd of people suddenly blocking your view IS the view."
This begins with the obvious stuff — pick up your trash, don't cut through yards, be sober — and extends to how you receive the procession.
Everyone grieves differently, so expect to see "the full spectrum of human emotion," Cooley says.
"The Hare Krishnas will sing and dance. The evangelicals will make a joyous noise because their loved ones are with Jesus. A marching band may make a celebratory New-Orleans-style racket and someone else might cry the whole time. Some artist is going to do something that you think is weird," she says. "But part of our responsibility is to be thoughtful about how we participate — am I, in what I'm choosing to do, honoring this grief, this transition, these loved ones in a way that is thoughtful ... but am I also leaving room for others to do it differently than I? As a society, we've got to learn how to do that."
If you go
What: The 29th All Souls Procession and finale ceremony
When: People can begin gathering at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4. The procession begins at 6 p.m. and the finale begins upon the arrival of the procession, maybe 8:30 or 9 p.m.
Where: The procession begins on Grande Avenue south of Speedway, turns left on St. Mary's Road and right onto Bonita Avenue. The path will diverge, allowing those who choose to walk along the river (Note: You'll encounter stairs on this path). Others can continue on to Congress Street. Both routes lead to the finale site, between the Mercado and the river.
More info: Visit allsoulsprocession.org