I arrived in Yucatán in late 2016 having spent my first Día de Muertos in Oaxaca, which is pretty much the Día de Muertos capital of México. It’s fair to say that I assumed Yucatán would not be dissimilar to Oaxaca when it came to celebrating this important day. Imagine my surprise the next year, when I started hearing mumblings about Hanal Pixán.
While in Oaxaca, we’d experienced almost a month of excitement in the run-up to Día de Muertos – colorful altars in cafés, shops, and galleries; scary costumes in stores; fireworks, processions, and an influx of people – Hanal Pixán is nothing like that. It is less showy, less of a party, and more of a private family affair that is celebrated together, as a community. Living here and experiencing it is truly an honor.
Altars and Processions
I hate to admit it, but the very first time that I took my family down to the Plaza Grande for the annual altar display, we were a little disappointed. We’d been expecting colors, skulls, and joy. We learned that it just isn’t the way here. You need to look more carefully in Yucatán. You need to open your mind and heart and let the Maya way in. You must remember the history and culture of this region, and leave behind images of the México City parade featured in the James Bond movie. If you watch (or even join) a local Paseo de las Ánimas, you’ll feel the gravity, the solemnity of this celebration that is still so much a part of Yucatecan life; and you’ll be forever changed by it.
Altars may be more muted in Yucatán, but there is a quiet and elegant beauty to their form. While the focus is still on a family’s ancestors, the altar is more likely to be in the home rather than being located on a grave or tomb. As such, the display you’ll see in the plaza resembles a small village scene.
Feeding The Ancestors
Hanal Pixán is Maya for “food for the souls,” and the translation gives really good insight into what is important here: the food and its preparation. By July every year people are talking about Mucbilpollo, or Pib, the incredibly delicious and much-coveted underground-cooked, banana-leaf-wrapped Tamal. Indeed, in October there is even a small festival dedicated just to Pib! Pib really is meant as an offering for the dead. The living can eat only after the offering has been made, so I guess the festival is a way of ensuring the non-dead (haha) get some before Hanal Pixán requires them to offer it up.
Apart from the Pib offering, you’ll find seven Jícaras (gourds) filled with various drinks including Atole Nuevo (a delicious corn drink) and chocolate, as well as snacks enjoyed by the ancestors in order to tempt them back; this is done on altars across the country. Of course, there are photos of the ancestors, candles, and wild, seasonal Yucatecan flowers like X’té (globe amaranth), X’pujuk (a local variety of Cempasúchil), and zinnias, all atop a white table cloth.
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 Juan Manuel Mier y Terán for its use in Yucatán Today.
Esta entrada también está disponible en: ES