Janal Pixan is one of the favorite times of the year for my family, and we still can’t quite believe our luck that we get to take part in such a magnificent and ancient Maya festival on an annual basis. While it is important to remember that Janal Pixan is a real part of Maya and Yucatecan life, and not something just for tourists, it is entirely possible to get involved and to learn about the Maya way of honoring their dead while you’re visiting.
Start at the Market
A great place to start your family’s understanding of Janal Pixan is the Lucas de Galvez market. Here you’ll be able to see Meridanos preparing to celebrate. Walk up and down the main fruit and veg hall and you’ll see traditional Janal Pixan food items for sale. Across the market you’ll also find Papel Picado (the beautiful Mexican paper cut bunting) and you’ll be treated to magnificent stalls laden with sugar skulls, sugar coffins, and altars. Not only are these incredibly photogenic but I also guarantee you that the kids will be begging to lick them for the rest of your stay in Mérida!
Once they’ve licked themselves silly, check out the shops around the market and maybe even get the kids a traditional Maya outfit to wear to the festivities. They’ll look absolutely fabulous with their faces painted in the traditional “calavera” style. For the boys, get a pair of white shorts and a white Guayabera shirt. For the girls, a traditional Hipil or an embroidered white dress will look wonderful.
Fill Your Belly
Have you heard of Pan de Muerto? It’s a traditional sweet bread that is eaten across México at this time of year. It is usually covered in sugar and has a slight orange tang but truly, no two Panes de Muerto taste the same, so you could do some serious taste testing with the kids.
If your family eats meat, then the small Pib Festival in Parque San Sebastián may also be of interest to you. Here you can try the traditional Janal Pixan baked tamales.
Discover the Traditions
I highly recommend taking the kids to the Plaza Grande to check out the altar display on Saturday, October 26, starting at 8 am. Here you’ll see the most traditional Maya style altars in the form of village huts; last year we even saw some with live chickens wandering around!
And on the 31st, the most important thing to do is to head to the main cemetery after dark (Cementerio General, entrance on Calle 66 at 95, Centro, get there early to secure a space) for the Paseo de las Ánimas, the main Janal Pixan event in Mérida. If your kids are bigger you could head into the cemetery and actually watch the start of the procession of hundreds of people dressed in traditional clothes, their faces painted and holding candles.
If your kids are smaller, I’d recommend waiting outside the main entrance where there are some seats and snack food options. Once the procession of souls (Ánimas) has passed you, follow them for as long as you can. Follow them through the streets of Mérida and marvel at how the city changes at this time of year. Altars are set up outside of homes, there are food stalls, toy stalls, and there is live music, too. The atmosphere is quite wonderful.
Editorial by Cassie Pearse
Freelance writer and blogger, born in the UK. Cassie has a BA from Oxford University and an MA from SOAS, University of London. She lives in Mérida and loves exploring Yucatán with her family.
Photography by Cassie Pearse for use in Yucatán Today
Read more about Día de Muertos and Janal Pixan:
See here a little bit of what Día de Muertos is all about:
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