Chuck enjoys celebrating holidays with his family. This has led to an interest in researching & writing about holidays & their traditions.
For the past six years, the little city of Tubac—located between Tucson and the Mexican border—has hosted a Dia de los Muertos/All Souls' Day festival on the second-to-last Sunday in October. Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday celebrated on or around November first or second. All Souls' Day is a centuries old Christian Holiday celebrated on November second.
My wife and I have attended the festival for the past two or three years, and we were excited to return this year. This fun festival is held in the Tubac Presidio Historic State Park, which is the smallest state park in Arizona. The Presidio (a Spanish fort) and its adobe walls have not aged well over the past century—most of its remains are now underground, but some of the remaining walls can be viewed through glass via an underground staircase.
As usual, my wife dressed in one of her special festival outfits then spent a good two hours or more putting on her face makeup. Much like at other events she's dressed up for in the past, she received many compliments and requests from strangers to take her picture or have their picture taken with her.
This year’s festival seemed a little smaller than in past years. The Presidio Park portion ran from noon to 4:00 p.m., which are the usual hours for this part of the festival. However, while the amount of food and other vendors was about the same, the entertainment was limited to one Mexican folkloric dance group and the Nogales High School with its award-winning mariachi band, marching band, and majorettes.
The Presidio Park part of the festival ended at 4:00 with the traditional parade which was noticeably smaller and shorter this year. Instead of the half-mile walk along Burruel St. from the park to and then through the Tubac Cemetery at the northern edge of town before returning and disbanding at the park, there was a change. This year, the parade only proceeded as far as Camino Otero where it turned left through the commercial area and then down to a little park and sculpture garden on the other side of the small wash on the south end of town. Many people, however, did join the parade as it made its way through Tubac. because of this, there appeared to be as many people at the evening portion of the Festival as in previous years.
We stayed for a little while but left before sunset and the evening bonfire into which the previously collected short prayers and messages that many people write for deceased family or friends are burned.
El Dia de los Muertos and All Souls' Day
The annual Tubac Festival is a combination of the pre-Columbian Mexican Dia de Los Muertos festival and the ancient Christian All Souls Day.
Before the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico many of the inhabitants of the central and southern part of Mexico had a tradition in the Autumn of honoring their dead. When the Spanish arrived and their missionaries began efforts to convert the native people to the Catholic religion they continued the Church's past practice of refocusing and changing a popular traditional religious holiday into a Christian holiday while still retaining some of the previous non-Christian elements. In this case the pre-Christian holiday became linked with the Christian All Souls Day observance.
All Souls Day, is observed on November 2nd in the Catholic, Anglican and some other Christian Churches. The practice of remembering and praying for the dead is found in many other Christian and non Christian religions from ancient times to the present. The November 2nd All Souls holy day is a day set aside for people to pray for the souls in Purgatory, which due to the owners less than perfect life, is an intermediate step between death and entrance into heaven. The journey of these souls can be helped along through the prayers of those still living.
Some History of el Dia de los Muertos
For many Christians the November 2nd All Souls Day is the day after the November 1st All Saints Day which celebrates the Saints in Heaven (for Roman Catholics it is a holy day of obligation on which they are required to go to Mass) while the next day, All Souls Day, is a day on which many Christians pray for the souls in Purgatory.. This praying for the souls of the dead is a practice found in many religions from past to presence. While the beliefs and practices in this area vary between people and cultures it is a sign of on going love and concern for family and friends who have died.
Until very recently el Dia de Los Muertos was a quieter and more private observance among families in central and southern Mexico. Families would set up small altars in their home with pictures, food and other momentos reminding them of family members who had died. They would attend church and often get together with family and friends to celebrate the lives of ancestors who had passed on.
The Holiday Moves North
As people began migrating from central and southern Mexico to the more prosperous northern part of Mexico and to the United States they brought the El Dia de Los Muertos traditions with them. As with other customs and practices the El Dia de Los Muertos holiday began moving into the broader culture as the migrants began sharing the holiday with friends and neighbors.
The El Dia de Los Muertos celebration began moving into borader American culture in the 1990s in the Southwest and other areas with large Mexican communities.
It didn’t take long for merchants in Mexico and the U.S. to start including some sugar skulls and masks amongst their traditional Halloween offerings.
A boost came when UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) added the El Dia de Los Muertos holiday to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list in 2008 even though this was a holiday rather than a physical object like most of the other items on the list. Another boost came with the 2015 release of the James Bond movie Spectre and its opening scene with James Bond escaping from bad guys in Mexico City by jumping out of a building and losing himself in a massive crowd of people celebrating El Dia de Los Muertos. Two years later the movie Coco made the holiday known throughout the world.
The first big boost to making the general public aware of El Dia de Los Muertos came when UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) added the El Dia de Los Muertos holiday to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list in 2008 even though this was a holiday rather than a physical object like most of the other items on the list.
Another boost came with the 2015 release of the James Bond movie Spectre and its opening scene with James Bond escaping from bad guys in Mexico City by jumping out of a building and losing himself in a massive crowd of people celebrating El Dia de Los Muertos. Two years later the movie Coco made the holiday known throughout the world.
Merchandising el Dia de los Muertos
Despite the fact that El de Los Muertos is not a Mexican version of Halloween, it does fall within the same three day period of Halloween (All Hallows Eve) All Saints Day and All Souls Day. It is also closely tied to All Souls Day and increasingly celebrated in conjunction with All Souls Day even though each has a separate history and traditions. Because of its links to all three days the date of El Dia de Los Muertos is frequently given as October 31st to November 2nd.
El Dia de Los Muertos also closely linked to Halloween in the marketplace. Like Christmas, which for close to a century has given the retail sector of the economy a nice boost, Halloween is rapidly becoming an economic stimulus for the economy in early Autumn.
Because it is both relatively new and falls right next to Halloween, sales of El Dia de Los Muertos items, which are rising, are still included with those of Halloween which are projected to reach $8.8 billion in 2019
The Festival's Location
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Chuck Nugent
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on December 15, 2019:
Jack Smith5 - Thanks for your comment, I'm glad you enjoyed this article. This is an annual festival which my wife and I enjoy visiting.
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on November 03, 2019:
Linda Crampton - thanks for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed this Hub. Like I said in the Hub while the holidays go back centuries it is only relatively recently that they have begun receiving attention in mainstream society. With Tucson being so close to Mexico it is not surprising that El Dia de Los Muertos has become very well known here. In fact we will be attending Tucson's annual Dia de Los Muertos / All Souls parade this evening - as we have in the past few years. While I will be attending the parade as a spectator my wife will be marching in it along with the drum group she recently joined.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 02, 2019:
This is an interesting article, Chuck. I knew about the special days that you've mentioned, but I didn't know specific information about Dia de los Muertos. I enjoyed learning more about it by reading your article.It's an event that I'd like to attend.
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on November 02, 2019:
Kenna - Thanks for the comment. As for fitting in just show up and pay the $8 per person entrance. Close to 2/3 of the people had no costume or, like me, just a simple mask (which my wife brought a year or so ago and insisted that I bring - but I only put it on for that one picture at the start of the Hub). Many of the people in the booths are happy to answer questions and explain things. There were also 3 or 4 people who set up their family alters and were happy to talk about them. My wife and a few others were exceptions with their elaborate costumes. My wife has an excellent eye for dress and always looks stunning and dressed for the part including dressing up for events like this. We always have fun and meet a lot of fun people at events and festivals like this even when we go to a new one for the first time we usually have a lot of fun.
Kenna McHugh from Northern California on November 01, 2019:
I love the details and pictures. It sounds like something I'd liken to do, but with a guide or someone to show how to fit in.