Known throughout Latin America as Dia de los Muertos, the “Day of the Dead” originated thanks to an ancient tradition started by the Aztecs in what is today Mexico. Despite its morbid or spooky sounding name, the day is filled with celebrations and festivities honoring lost loved ones worldwide. Overlapping with the Catholic celebrations of All Souls and All Saints Days, the Day of the Dead occurs every year from November 1 through November 2.
Similar to other cultural celebrations that have made it from Mexico to the States, like Cinco de Mayo, the Day of the Dead has grown in popularity in the U.S. Take Tucson, Arizona, for example. Located in one of the states that borders Mexico and inherits a lot of its culture, Tucson gives visitors and locals a Dia de los Muertos experience unlike most other U.S. cities.
Tucson’s Connection To Mexico
“The U.S. acquired Tucson and Arizona south of the Gila River from Mexico in the Gadsden Purchase between 1853 and 1854,” according to Visit Tucson. “At the time of the purchase, Tucson was a Mexican community of around 500 residents. It was these people and their descendants that helped form Tucson into the thriving city it is today.”
Further explaining its deep roots in Mexican culture, Tucson’s neighborhoods are called barrios. “In Barrio Viejo, for instance, you can see Mexican culture in the Sonoran architecture, brightly colored adobe houses, and El Tiradito, a beautiful wishing shrine,” continues Visit Tucson.
Day Of The Dead In Tucson
A tradition steeped in Mexican culture, the Day of the Dead was once a celebration unaccepted by the area’s Spanish conquistadors. According to Tim Vanderpool of Visit Tucson, “In Mexico, the Spanish conquistadors encountered and attempted to eradicate such celebrations for the dead.” But the ancient tradition overcame adversity in both Mexico and Tucson — a tradition that has since taken over as one of the city’s most sought-after annual celebrations.
Dia De Los Muertos Arizona Artists Exhibition
Hosted at Tohono Chul gardens, galleries, and bistro from August 24–November 5, this Day of the Dead experience is a months-long artistic celebration of the community’s lost loved ones. Displaying beautiful remembrance pieces in a truly tranquil locale, the exhibition honors both the artists in the area and their ancestors, while also offering several cultural-immersion opportunities for locals and visitors alike.
Dia De Los Muertos At The Presidio Museum
Centered around artistic shrines on altars known as ofrendas, the Day of the Dead is all about beautiful presentations that honor loved ones that have since passed. Just like the stunning color palette of the animated movie Coco — which focuses on Dia de los Muertos and its themes of death — the Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum displays ofrendas available for the public to view, while also giving them the opportunity to leave mementos on the altars.
Museum entry costs $6 for anyone over the age of 5; those under 5 enter for free.
All Souls Procession
Lasting from November 3–5, the All Souls Procession is known as the “Grand Finale” and extends the Day of the Dead celebration an extra 3 days. While the holiday has been celebrated for centuries, it wasn’t until 1990 that Tucson really embraced the tradition.
The All Souls Procession “began on a very personal note in 1990, when Tucson artist Susan Kay Johnson was searching for a way to reflect upon her father’s recent passing,” states Visit Tucson. “The resulting work included [a] sculpture, a community altar, and small performance pieces scattered through downtown.”
While residents started following the traditions, workshops began to pop up and artists gathered to create everything from costumes to elaborate ofrendas honoring their ancestors. Local nonprofits have since been involved with the procession and the community has been a huge participant for the past 33 years.
“Part theater, part thoughtful remembrance, it now ranks among the largest of such celebrations in America,” continues Visit Tucson.
The Day of the Dead is a stark reminder to celebrate our ancestors and fallen friends and family rather than mourn them. A Mexican tradition that has since grown into worldwide popularity, Dia de los Muertos is truly a one-of-a-kind experience when visiting Tucson, Arizona.