Guardian photos by Jordan White 
The scents of burning sage and copal were thick in the Mission on Friday night for the neighborhood's annual procession and Dia de los Muertos festival of altars . Crowds in face paint and costumes lined the streets waiting for the march to begin. To our suprise, a group of calaveras-painted faces led by several drummers jumped the gun, marching down 24th Street before the official procession surged from the other direction with its Aztec dancers, live music by percussion champions Loco Bloco, and skeletons made of fabric and paper floating above the crowd.
One audience member remarked that the festival seemed disorganized, but really, the atmosphere of chaos and revelry was perfect.
Dia de Los Muertos honors death through celebration rather than mourning, and the unsystematic nature of the Mission's festivities framed the atmosphere as a way to reflect on death throught the lens of life (just like those skeletons that jumped above their living and breathing makers' heads.)
After the procession, the crowds mixed in with the band to dance their way into Garfield Park for the festival of the altars. There was a wide array of tributes in the park, each carefully planned and grounded with a sense of ritual, from traditional homages to Burning Man-esque art experiences.
Some altars were modern. One, a tribute to recently-deceased playwright and Man arsonist Paul Addis  had neon lights in addition to candles and Boba Fett helmet to represent a skull. Others were entirely traditional: old photos, food offerings, papel picado, marigolds. Those who hadn’t prepared altars were invited to write to lost loved ones on notecards, which were strung together between the trees. Despite being a space for sober reflection, the energy stayed strong throughout the evening with double-dutch jump rope, flamenco dancers, scattered musicians, and continuous dancing in the street that lasted until bands got tired and marched everyone out.