Mérida, Yucatán — Hanál Pixan will be celebrated with a series of events beginning with a dance performance on Monday, Oct. 23.
Before it’s over, Day of the Dead altars everywhere and a new food festival will have debuted in San Sebastian.
But the highlight of the festival is on Friday, Oct. 27, when tens of thousands of people are expected to join the Walk of Souls or Paseo de las Ánimas.
This spectacle has grown exponentially since it was introduced nine years ago. This nighttime parade winds its way on Calle 66, past altars and live bands, from the general cemetery to the San Juan Arch. Members of the public dress in typical Yucatecan attire and Day of the Dead face paint.
The ceremonial parade is enjoyed by families while observing traditional altar exhibits, set up with the basic elements that the Mayan culture uses, such as crucifixes and colored or black candles, sweets, drinks and flowers specific to the region. During this parade, the ancient Pok ta Pok game is here instead of the cathedral.
Along the route, bands will perform pre-Hispanic music on stages at the Cementerio General, La Ermita de Santa Isabel plaza, and the Arco de San Juan, where the colorful will mix with tradition and respect for local customs.
Here are some other highlights of the week:
At 9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, the public is invited to see a Dia de los Muertos-themed Vaquería dance performance at the Municipal Palace. The folkloric costumes and Day of the Dead face-paint should be striking. The show is free.
On Saturday, Oct. 28, the “Camino de Flores” returns to Mejorada Park, this time with a troubadours theme. This will echo the city’s first “Camino” back in April, when the street that runs along the park became a lush, colorful garden filled with rich symbolism achieved with decorative flowers and topiary. This makes good on the city’s promise to perform an encore.
On Sunday, Oct. 29, the first-ever Mucbipollo Fair will be held at San Sebastian Park. A traditional Day of the Dead dish, Mucbipollo is a composite Mayan and Spanish word. In Mayan muc means buried and bi means baked, and pollo is the Spanish word for chicken. This partly explains what Mucbipollo is.
Mucbipollos are similar to tamales, but on a larger scale, with corn masa and chicken wrapped in banana leaves. Traditionally it’s cooked in an underground pit called a pib, though nowadays some people take their mucbipollos to a bakery to be cooked in a wood-fired oven, while others will bake it in their oven at home.
The fair begins at 11 a.m., but organizers recommend arriving around 1 p.m., in time for lunch. Live music will enliven the atmosphere.
Fusing Mayan tradition and Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos celebrations, Hanal Pixán takes place across all of Yucatán between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2.
Once a private, at-home tradition, the city has brought Hanal Pixán to public spaces, and tourists flock to see the altars people build to honor loved ones who have passed on.
Although the Spanish tried to force the Catholic observance of the All Souls’ Day, indigenous people found a way to continue their ancient traditions by transforming it into what is now the Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos.
Meanwhile, on the Yucatán Peninsula, the Mayan variation was, and remains, Hanal Pixán.
Altar of Hanal Pixán in the Mayan tradition
Hanal Pixán means “food for the souls,” and that’s just what it is.
Altars are constructed and covered in offerings to welcome the souls of their dead relatives who come to see the living. It is believed that the dead come back to their home to be with their loved ones, to eat their favorite foods and to rest from the long journey, and eventually go back to their mythical resting place.
Schools hold contests for the best altars. In the countryside, altars are set up on the front porch or patio of many homes, or just about anywhere they can fit a table.
Oct. 31 is dedicated to the children’s souls, Nov. 1 is dedicated to the adults’ souls and Nov. 2. is “Faithful Death Day” (for both children and adults).
On the final day of this celebration, called Biix, a mass in honor of the dead wishes them a safe trip back to their resting place. A path lit with candles guides them on their way.
Here are the items that make up a traditional altar:
- Black or white candle made of wax
- Candle stick holder’s and incense burner made of clay.
- A tablecloth embroidered with white, black or purple flowers
- Teresita, Virginia, X-tees and X-pujuk flowers
- Jicara (A special bowl of water)
- Ruda (medicinal plant Ruta graveolens)
- Corn grains
- A photograph of the deceased
- A crucifix
- Ash on the floor next to the altar
- Ornaments made of tree bark
- Sweet bread, pan de muerto
- Atole nuevo, a traditional hot beverage made of typical corn
- Elote tierno y elote sancochado, young corn and boiled corn
- Pib, a special baked tamal
- Cigarettes and liquor, according to the former habits of the deceased; or toys if this is a child’s altar
- Sweets of pumpkin seed, if a child’s altar
Food and candies on the altar
- Relleno blanco o negro (turkey stuffed with ground meat with different spices)
- Escabeche de pollo
- Frijol con puerco
- Cochinita pibil
- Puchero (stew)
- Handmade tortillas made of corn
- Xe’ek’ (mix fruit salad made of orange, tangerine and jicama
Candies (candy markets will have popped up to meet the need):
- Yuca (Yucca, cassava or tapioca root)
- Sweet potato
- Seasonal fruits