Right about now we should be getting excited about Janal Pixan. In case you’re not sure, Janal Pixan is the Yucatecan equivalent of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Janal Pixan translates as “Food for the Souls.” It takes place October 31 – November 2, and normally, Mérida is a great place to watch, join, and understand the festivities. Of course, we aren’t living in “normal times,” so this year everyone will just have to welcome their ancestors at home without the usual city-wide celebrations.
As a recent immigrant, this isn’t my festival and it isn’t part of my European-Atheist-Jewish upbringing so you would be right to question why I’m writing this article. Well, I guess, I’m in love with México, its traditions, and the local culture. I’m thrilled that my kids are growing up here and that this will be a part of their understanding of the world. Janal Pixan is a beautiful holiday with a rich history, and this year it’s up to me to keep it going in the home. I plan to do this with respect and honor for local beliefs and our ancestors.
This is How…
To get my kids in the mood, we’ll begin with watching Coco. I love this movie and although it isn’t centered around Yucatecan Janal Pixan, it’s fun and a good introduction to the basics of Día de Muertos. We’ll also eat Pan de Muerto. If you haven’t yet tried this sweet bread, you must do so ASAP as it’s integral to this time of year. Pan de Muerto is not originally from southeastern México, but like many things, it has found popularity with locals and has gained a place in the celebrations. Normally, to join the Paseo de las Ánimas (Procession of Souls), we let the kids get their faces painted and our daughter paints her dad’s face. I’ve never been keen on allowing small children wielding drawing instruments near my face, but maybe this year I’ll relent as part of my plan to keep the festivities alive at home.
Before we set up our altar, I’ll have to get the kids to clean the house. It’s customary to welcome ancestors into a clean house so my poor darlings will be put to work. Last year we bought Papel Picado (the beautiful paper flags you see across México) in the market so we’ll reuse the ones we purchased last year. We also bought decorations in Fantasías Miguel that the kids painted to use on our altar. The table should also house photos of your deceased relatives, flowers, candles, incense, bowls of snacks, and drinks to welcome them back with.
The flowers can be bought in the markets or, if you want fake ones, in Fantasías Miguel. If you’re heading to the market, you’ll also be able to pick up some fabulous sugar skulls to use as decoration for the altar.
My grandmother might be sad to know that we won’t be including her beloved cigarettes on the table to welcome her back. But she probably will not be surprised since even as a small child I’d remove her ashtrays and leave her little no-smoking signs in their place. Instead, we’ll have oranges and chocolate out for her.
It wouldn’t be a good Mexican festival without incredible food. In past years, we’d grab a group of friends and head to the Pib Festival in San Sebastián where we would sit around with thousands of others enjoying a slice or four of Pib. Pib is actually called Mukbilpollo, a linguistic portmanteau of Muk, “buried” and Bi, “baked” from Maya; and Pollo, “chicken” from Spanish. Pib is the name of the underground oven used to cook this and other regional dishes. The chicken is cooked in corn dough, wrapped in banana leaves, and is not unlike a Tamal.
This year, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for people offering Pib for delivery. I imagine I’ll see them on Facebook, Whatsapp groups, and signs along the side of the road. If you don’t spot any, then why not try Pueblo Pibil, a fabulous restaurant in Tixkokob that has recently opened a take-away only branch in Mérida. They offer Mukbilpollo as a seasonal specialty, but everything on their menu is cooked in an underground Pib oven.
I’m also a big fan of Xec. This salad is easy to make at home. It consists of orange, mandarin, jicama (it’s local jicama season too, which is exciting) with scrummy chile powder on top. If you see it, grab some Atole nuevo to drink too. It’s such a fresh and delicious flavor.
While we won’t be visiting cemeteries, enjoying altar competitions, or partying behind the Paseo de las Ánimas this year, it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the Catrinas from the safety of our homes. My kids will paint everyone’s faces, and this year will be the perfect time to learn more about the man who drew the first Catrina, José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican satirical cartoonist. My favorite place to see both Posada and his Catrina is in Diego Rivera’s fabulous mural, “Sunday Afternoon In Alameda Park.”
Editorial by Cassie Pearse
Freelance writer and blogger
Adventure lover who never lost her sense of fun or wonder
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