Hanal Pixan is the local, Maya equivalent of Day of the Dead, celebrated right across Mexico at the end of October / beginning of November.
In the Mayan language, Hanal Pixan translates as ‘food for the souls’. The Pixan, or soul, was a gift from the gods to humans, passed on in the womb during pregnancy.
At the time of death, the Pixan left the body, traveling along a series of heavenly pathways until it was time to be reincarnated within a new human being.
Accordingly, the Maya were very accepting of death, so much so that commoners were often buried under the floor in their homes!
At the same time, altars to the dead were also built and included offerings of food, designed to smooth over the soul’s journey to a new life, hence food for the souls or Hanal Pixan.
The timing of today’s Hanal Pixan celebrations on the other hand has much more to do with the influence of the Spanish conquistadores and, more specifically, the Catholic church.
While the church initially did everything in its power to wipe out traditional belief systems, the Maya either continued to practice them in secret or simply integrated them into Christian traditions.
Rather than fight a losing battle, the church therefore set aside 31st October, 1st & 2nd November (the same dates already used to celebrate All Souls Day) for the Maya to celebrate and honour their dead. Hence the creation of Hanal Pixan in the Yucatan Peninsula and Day of the Dead across the rest of Mexico and beyond.
Today, Hanal Pixan is still widely celebrated throughout the Yucatan Peninsula and begins with family tombs being given a good clean, before being adorned with flowers (typically yellow and purple) and lit candles.
Families will also gather for traditional feasts that will always include Pibil (a Yucatan speciality of slow roasted pork) and Pib (tamales cooked underground).
While Hanal Pixan is celebrated right across the Yucatan Peninsula, for the overseas visitor looking for the best place to witness the celebrations, that would have to be the city of Merida.
Throughout the city – both public areas and private homes and shops – you will come across colourful offerings laid out on traditionally embroided tablecloths while at the city’s Lucas de Galvez market, stalls will be packed with all the traditional foods required for the celebrations.
Also in Merida, commencing at 6pm on 31st October, is the Parade of Souls (Paseo de Animas), a huge procession that starts in the General Cemetery and ends at the San Juan Arch. If you really want to get in the spirit of things (pun intended), you can even have your face painted. When in Merida and all that……
At Beyond The Ordinary, all our holidays are entirely tailor made so including a few days in Merida during Hanal Pixan couldn’t be easier – just be sure to book as far in advance as possible and accept that hotel rates are going to jump.
To discuss your holiday plans in more details, we first suggest that you visit our Itineraries page (these are just a few ideas, there are thousands of variations and alternatives including beach extensions) before either dropping us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or giving us a call on 01580 764796.