Janal Pixan is a unique traditional festivity carried out in the Yucatán Peninsula; while it is in some ways similar to Día de Muertos as it’s celebrated in the rest of México, some of its features are a distinct heritage from our Maya culture.
Janal Pixan (pronounced han-al peeshan) in Maya refers to the “food of the soul,” a reference to the link between the food and the ritual that its preparation involves as an offering for the souls of family members and friends who are allowed back to this plane for a visit.
This celebration originates in the pre-Hispanic Maya cosmology. Life was represented by cycles based on the endless motion of heavenly bodies, including the sun and moon. There was also the belief that our world was connected to those of the gods and the dead. Tthis way, death was not the end, but a new step towards a rebirth cycle.
The Pixan, or “soul,” is a gift from the gods that determines the vitality and aptitudes of a person in life, which remains after the physical death. The Pixan would follow serpentine paths between the 13 heavens and nine underworlds, connected by a sacred Ceiba tree whose roots and branches crossed each dimension; its trunk, in the middle, was found on our earthly plane. To make sure that Pixanes or souls would make it to the branches with the gods, to then look for pregnant women in whose wombs to be carried and reborn, their families held prayers and rituals that guided the souls’ journey.
Throughout 300 years of Spanish rule, the Maya had to adapt their beliefs and prayers to those imposed by the Catholic church. The 13 heavens and nine underworlds became just one heaven and one hell. The rituals were mixed with the Hispanic religion, taking on elements such as the green cross that represented the sacred Ceiba tree, and hid its true meaning to avoid persecution.
These traditions and their corresponding evolutions are maintained to this day. Between October 31 and November 2, when Janal Pixan is celebrated throughout the Yucatán Peninsula, homes are dressed up with altars, which are in turn decorated with flowers, candles, pictures of loved ones, and seasonal food, including the Pib or Mucbilpollo, a meal made with corn, Espelón beans, and meat marinated in annatto, which is then wrapped in banana leaves. Altars also normally feature items, treats, and even toys that the deceased used to like when they were alive.
This practice is available to see almost in any city or village in the Península (if you are to go inside people’s homes, that is). However, it should be noted that villages have kept a more clearly defined syncretism; that means their distinctive features are easy to spot. That’s the case with Tekit, as Ana Piña, member of the Yaax Tekit co-op, tells us. “We call Janal Pixan ‘Finados’ ([the time for] the deceased); it’s a time where families get together to prepare food, candy, and bread for the altar, honoring our loved ones.”
“There is one candle that is lit, it’s called the lone candle; it’s set for those who no longer have families to remember them, so they’ll feel welcome. We always light an extra candle, with a Jícara of water.” This consideration shows us a bit of the values and beliefs that are still part of Maya culture nowadays.
Many travelers ask whether it’s possible to visit villages like these to share in the celebration on these special days of the year. That’s why so many co-ops in Co’ox Mayab have organized a series of events so visitors can join in and find out more about Janal Pixan Maya traditions.
The day begins with a tour of the Tekit cemetery. The tour also includes a visit to a Maya home where Melipona bees are kept, so you can taste their very distinctive honey. Then we visit two homes and their altars, to understand what they’re like, what the offering is, how the altars for children and adults vary, and the importance of color in the altars’ candles.
Finally, we’ll visit a cenote where you’ll be able to swim and discover the sacredness of cenotes and caves. The one-day tour leaves Mérida at 8 am. Just like this one, Co’ox Mayab will be organizing tours and activities in Ek Balam, Kaua, Río Lagartos, and Cenotillo, among others. Don’t hesitate to contact them to reserve a spot as soon as possible.
Calle 76 No. 455-LL x 41 y 43, Centro
Tel. 999 447 8395
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