In Yucatán, the traditional festivity for the Day of the Dead is Hanal Pixan (food of the souls), celebrated by all Yucatecans. In the towns and cities it is celebrated with altars and offerings in the homes. Everything starts on October 31st which is dedicated to the souls of children, November 1st is for the adults, and November 2nd is for the faithful deceased. In some communities the celebration is one week longer: during the “ochovario” or “bix,” altars and candles are placed on the fences and roads so the souls can find their way.
Hoctún, a Maya community located 45 km from Mérida, in the way to Chichén Itzá, with around 5,000 inhabitants (mainly indigenous), has become an attractive place because of its Day of the Dead celebrations. Everyone in town gathers to celebrate Hanal Pixán, with the placement of altars and the smell of the incense and copal that floats over the houses and streets. The prayers and music complete this almost magical scene.
A unique celebration that combines the Spanish and Maya customs is visiting the graveyards in order to clean the graves. Here the cemetery doesn’t have a mysterious or gloomy feel; it is picturesque and colorful.
The Hoctún cemetery attracts thousands of visitors each year that come to see the sculptures that were built in memory of their loved ones. Some graves are like Maya houses (with circular form and huano rooftop). Others are modeled after “El Castillo” of Chichén Itzá, or representations of cornfields or churches. There is one that stands out: an exact copy of the “Torre Latinoamericana” from México City, built because its inhabitant lived for a time in that city, and it was his dying request.
This cemetery, built in 1866, has around 600 graves in the first section. In 1962 the second section was opened to house more inhabitants. The townspeople go during the days of November to paint the graves with colorful flowers that are like hipil embroidery, angels, hearts, and any inspiration from their departed ancestors that will honor them.
They write fragments of memories, and paint the tombs with bright, neon colors of orange, blue, and yellow. The result is a completely unique cemetery.
If you have a chance, go and enjoy this special celebration. Asked the families from Hoctún about their stories. They will be glad of telling you about them.
Live the traditions from Yucatán and shared them with us.
By Violeta H. Cantarell
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