Hanal Pixan is the name for the festivities which take place in the Yucatan which are similar to the Day of the Dead celebrations throughout Mexico. However, there are some Maya additions to the 3-day holiday which are specific to the peninsula and reflect the history and culture of the Maya people. In the Maya language, Hanal Pixan translates as ‘food of souls’ and special dishes are prepared for the arrival of the spirits of deceased family members who return on these days to visit their families.
On October 1st, traditionally the souls of children who have died will be remembered with offerings such as candy and toys while on November 1st, the souls of deceased adults return and are honored with different offerings such as food and drinks and their favorite items. Finally, on November 2nd, there is a mass in which family members pray for the souls of the dead and for their safe return to their resting places.
Traditionally, families prepare their homes by cleaning and setting up an altar where they put offerings for their deceased loved ones. This includes foods and drinks, personal items and photos placed on a white table cloth in the center of the family home. To guide the spirits to the altar they place candles and marigold flowers in a path on the ground. Family members also visit graves in the cemeteries and decorate them with flowers, incense and even art. It’s a truly colorful and beautiful way to remember lost loved ones and honor their memories.
How to Celebrate Hanah Pixan in Merida
As the capital of the Yucatan Peninsula, Merida is a really great place to experience the Hanal Pixan celebrations. Public festivities will begin around the week before the 1st and 2nd of November. On the 28th of October, a procession will make their way from the general cemetery to the park of San Juan. This is the Paseo de las Animas, the Walk of the Souls, in which locals and visitors alike are encouraged to embrace the culture by painting their faces and dressing up as catrinas, the traditional skeleton woman.
There are other events during the week such as the decorations of streets and parks, evenings of music and shows in the central square and other parks in the downtown of Merida. In particular, there is an assembly of traditional altars in the plaza grande for a few days where you can sample some local food and listen to the stories that local people have to tell about this old Mayan celebration.
Pib: The Hanal Pixan Speciality
In almost every home in the Yucatan, families will prepare the traditional Maya dish called pib. This is a chicken tamale (wrapped in banana leaves) cooked underground in a giant pit for several hours before being placed on the altar in the family home. After the spirits have visited the altar and enjoyed the smells of pib, the family gathers to enjoy this hearty and unique dish, with its smoky flavor and earthy character.
If you are coming to Mérida to be part of the Hanal Pixan, stay with us in any of our City Express in Mérida, we assure that you will come back every year!