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A primer on Hanal Pixán

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Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for our weekly newsletters, so our top headlines will appear in your inbox each Monday and Thursday.

Hundreds of altars honor the spirits of deceased loved ones for Hanal Pixán. Photo: Ayuntamiento

Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is one of the most iconic celebrations in Mexico. But it’s done differently in Yucatán, where Mayan traditions been held more closely than in the rest of the country.

In the Yucatán, families merge indigenous traditions and Catholic beliefs.

In Yucatán, we call this period Hanal Pixán, meaning “meal for the souls.” Private events start at on Oct. 31, although public ceremonies might be timed for weekends.

A traditional altar of Hanal Pixán.

Everything in each house must be cleaned for the dead loved ones who are going to arrive — the dead don’t like dust. Altars are prepared with white tablecloths, desserts and toys for the little ones.

On Nov. 1 and 2, the altars transition for the adults who have passed away. The favorite foods of the deceased are prepared and placed on the altar, along with alcoholic beverages.

A particular dish called mucbipollo or pib is served. The uninitiated may think of this as a pork and chicken stew pot pie, but it’s closer to a large tamale, cooked with a corn dough, mixed with a handful of spices and wrapped in banana tree leaves.

Families gather together at the cemeteries, bringing flowers and have religious masses. In some cemeteries, families prepare ahead of time by painting the tombs and headstones of their loved ones.

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