Even among the elaborate face paints and costumes donned by the participants in the Day of the Dead parade on Sunday, it was hard to miss Josh Decker and his friends.

Near the front of the procession, Decker’s group towed with them a 25-foot-long banjo he had built using a set of bicycle wheels, a tribute to folk singer Pete Seeger, who died in January. All down the parade route on Higgins Avenue, the group blasted Seeger’s music to the crowds on the sidewalks.

“He was a lifelong voice for peace, and his music was always really important to us,” Decker said.

Organizer Tarn Ream said everyone has their own reasons for coming out to take part in the parade, from remembering someone they’ve lost to just wanting to be a part of a big community event.

“The school children that have come out have made art projects or are playing instruments and they get to come out and be a part of it all,” Ream said.

The parade was part of the 22nd annual Festival of the Dead in Missoula. Day of the Dead is a holiday popular in Central America to honor friends and family members who have died.

Kids from every age group at Sussex School participate in learning about and celebrating Day of the Dead, said assistant director Robin Etingen-Ayers.

“We celebrate it in art and Spanish classes especially,” Etingen-Ayers said. “And this year we have the people from Tamarack Grief Resource Center come to talk to the students about the idea of death and loss.”

The older students were able to help make a series of steamroller block prints at the University of Montana, while the younger kids held painted signs on poles while they marched. Etingen-Ayers said the students also made an altar at the school where kids could bring photos of someone they had lost to put on it.

“We’ve had everything from a pet dog to a grandparent.” she said. “We talk about birth, but we don’t talk about death, and it needs to be a part of the conversations we’re having.”

Other marchers held black and white steamroller prints high above the heads of the audience on long poles, or twirled brightly colored paper parasols. A table near the parade’s start at the XXXX’s drew a line of people looking for a bit of last-minute face paint to complete their spooky look.

Forty-five students from Stevensville High School made the trip to Missoula on Sunday to be a part of the parade.

“We’ve always made a huge deal of Day of the Dead at Stevensville. Our Spanish class gets really into it every year,” said senior Randy McGrann.

Some of the students were playing instruments while the rest had learned a dance to perform for the event. McGrann said he was very happy that it didn’t rain during the parade like last year. Before the parade started, he stood with the rest of his classmates, adjusting their brass instruments and drums and trying not to smear their face paint.

“This is the first year we actually had to limit the number of kids going,” he said.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.