27 Oct 2023
In Yucatán, the Day of the Dead is not just a celebration; it's a deeply ingrained tradition known as Hanal Pixán. This annual festival bridges the gap between the living and the afterlife, a time to rejoice in the reunion with dearly departed loved ones. Starting from the early days of October, the fragrance of marigolds (cempasúchil), xec, and pib fills the air, signaling the arrival of this cherished occasion.
Hanal Pixán, a Mayan term meaning "food of the souls," is a Yucatecan take on the Day of the Dead. It seamlessly blends Mayan rituals to honor the deceased with Spanish Catholic customs to commemorate them. According to Spanish tradition, November 1st and 2nd are reserved for prayers for the souls of the departed, seeking their salvation. In Mayan culture, this time of year grants deceased family members and loved ones permission to visit the world of the living.
Unlike some more exuberant celebrations elsewhere in Mexico, in Yucatán, you won't find dancing skulls in the streets or raucous laughter in the face of death. Instead, Hanal Pixán is a more solemn affair where souls return to visit their families and ancestral homes. That said, in today's Yucatan you may notice some influence from other Mexican regions in the larger cities, but the heart of the tradition remains intact.
During Hanal Pixán, the living and the deceased come together through offerings and altars laden with sumptuous banquets. Masses, prayers, and warm family gatherings are held to prepare pib or mucbipollo, a traditional dish. Cemeteries are open for visits, and in some communities, it's the very people who care for these sacred places.
The festivities span from October 31st to November 2nd, with each day having its significance:
Chichán Pixán (Little Soul)
October 31st is dedicated to deceased children. Families place colorful candles, toys, and fun foods like chocolate, bread, and marzipan on altars to honor the young souls.
Nohoch Pixán (Adult Soul)
November 1st is a day dedicated to adult souls, whether they be family or friends. It's customary to include balché, an intoxicating drink, on the altars. Offerings may also include cigarettes and beverages that the deceased enjoyed during their lifetime.
Day of the Faithful Dead or Lonely Souls
On November 2nd, special prayers are offered for the souls of the departed who have no family to return to or no place to go. A separate altar is set up for these lonely souls, marking the conclusion of the Hanal Pixán celebration.
In Yucatán, Hanal Pixán isn't merely celebrated; it's lived. It's a time when the spirits of the past are warmly welcomed back into the world of the living, creating a profound sense of connection between generations and a celebration of life's enduring bonds.