What is Hanal Pixan, the mayan day of the dead

Octubre 5 de 2023


Hanal Pixan is the day of the dead in the Mayan tradition. It is a time when the living and the dead are believed to come together, strengthening the bonds between generations and preserving the unique cultural identity of this vibrant city.

Hanal Pixan is a deeply spiritual and culturally rich celebration that brings together the ancient traditions of the Maya with the colonial influences of the Spanish. 

The tradition of Hanal Pixan in Mérida, Mexico, has deep historical and cultural roots, drawing from both indigenous Mayan practices and Catholic influences brought by Spanish colonizers. Its history is a testament to the blending of these two worlds into a unique celebration. 

7 keys to understand the Hanal Pixan celebration

There are 7 keys to understand the meaning and context of the Hanal Pixan:

1. Mayan Ancestry: 

The origins of Hanal Pixan can be traced back to the ancient Mayan civilization, which inhabited the Yucatán Peninsula, including the area that is now Mérida. 

The Maya had a complex belief system that included the veneration of ancestors and the concept of an afterlife. They believed that the souls of the deceased continued to exist in the underworld.

2. All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day: 

With the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, Catholicism was introduced to the indigenous populations of Mexico. 

The Spanish colonizers brought with them the Christian traditions of All Saints' Day (November 1st) and All Souls' Day (November 2nd), which are dedicated to honoring the deceased.

3. Syncretism: 

A process of syncretism occurred, where Mayan beliefs and Catholicism merged. The result was the creation of a unique celebration known as Hanal Pixan. The term "Hanal Pixan" means "Food of the Souls" in the Yucatec Maya language, and it reflects the offering of food to the deceased as a way to sustain and honor their spirits.

4. Altars and Ofrendas: 

The construction of altars and ofrendas (offerings) became a central aspect of Hanal Pixan. These altars are adorned with marigold flowers (known as flor de cempasúchil), candles, incense, and photographs of the departed. Families prepare traditional dishes and drinks to place on the altars, believing that the spirits of their loved ones will return to enjoy the offerings.

5. Cemetery Visits: 

Visiting cemeteries during Hanal Pixan is a tradition that allows families to clean and decorate the graves of their ancestors. It's a time for reflection, prayer, and the sharing of stories about the lives of those who have passed away.

6. Mayan Influence: 

Despite the Catholic elements, Hanal Pixan in Mérida and the Yucatán Peninsula retains strong Mayan cultural components. The use of Mayan language, music, dance, and indigenous foods during the celebration reflects the resilience of Mayan culture.

7. Continuation and Revival: 

Over the centuries, Hanal Pixan has evolved and adapted to the changing times, but it remains an important and cherished tradition in Mérida and the Yucatán. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in preserving and reviving the authentic cultural elements of the celebration.

In todays Mérida, Hanal Pixan takes on a unique and culturally rich flavor, combining Mayan and Spanish influences into a captivating and deeply spiritual celebration. 

7 traditions that are done today during hanal pixan

  • Altars (Ofrendas): 

Families in Mérida create elaborate altars in their homes, dedicated to their deceased loved ones. These altars are adorned with marigold flowers, candles, incense, and colorful papel picado (decorative paper). 

The centerpiece of the altar is the "arco" (arch), an ornate structure made from bamboo or other materials, which represents the gateway between the worlds of the living and the dead.

  • Traditional Foods: 

One of the most iconic aspects of Hanal Pixan in Mérida is the traditional cuisine prepared for the occasion. 

Families cook dishes such as mucbipollo (a type of tamale), pibipollo (a savory pie), and sweet delicacies like xec (a fruit salad) and calabaza en miel (candied pumpkin). These foods are believed to nourish the souls of the departed during their visit.

  • Marigold Decorations: 

Marigold flowers, known as "flor de cempasúchil," are used abundantly to decorate altars, cemeteries, and public spaces in Mérida. Their vibrant orange and yellow colors are believed to guide the spirits of the deceased back to the world of the living.

  • Visits to Cemeteries: 

Families gather at the city's cemeteries, especially the General Cemetery, to clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones. They bring offerings of food, candles, and other items to share with the departed. It's a time for reflection, prayer, and storytelling about the lives of those who have passed away.

  • Mesoamerican Rituals: 

Mérida's Hanal Pixan celebrations often include elements of Mayan spirituality and rituals. Traditional healers or shamans may conduct ceremonies to honor the dead and seek their guidance.

  • Music and Dance: 

Throughout the celebration, you'll find traditional music and dance performances, including "jarana" music and folkloric dances, adding to the festive atmosphere. The Jarana is a lively Yucatecan dance performed with colorful costumes and traditional instruments.

Learn more about the best things to do in Merida, Mexico


5 attractions for americans during the celebration of Hanal Pixan 

Check out this incredible attractions if you are going to be in Merida during this celebration:

  • Hanal Pixan Altar Displays: 

Explore the various neighborhoods and public spaces in Mérida to witness the beautifully decorated Hanal Pixan altars. These displays often feature intricate designs, marigold flowers, candles, and symbolic offerings, photographs of deceased loved ones, and offerings of food and drinks. 

It's a chance to pay respects to the departed and share in the communal spirit of Hanal Pixan. Don't miss the altars set up in the historic center and at the city's cemeteries, such as the General Cemetery.

  • Paseo de las Animas

El Paseo de las Ánimas, which translates to "The Walk of the Souls" or "The Procession of the Spirits," typically takes place on the evening of October 31st, marking the beginning of the Hanal Pixan celebrations. 

The heart of El Paseo de las Ánimas is a nighttime procession that winds its way through the historic streets of Mérida. Participants, often dressed in traditional Mayan clothing or as skeletons, carry candles and lanterns as they walk through the city. 

The use of candles and lanterns creates a magical and ethereal ambiance as the procession moves through the city streets, illuminating the path and symbolizing the souls' journey. El Paseo de las Ánimas is a communal and family-oriented event where people of all ages come together to celebrate and honor their ancestors. It's a time for storytelling and sharing memories of those who have passed away.

  • Traditional Music and Dance: 

The procession is accompanied by traditional Yucatecan music, such as the jarana and trova, and often features dancers in elaborate costumes performing regional folk dances. The lively music and dance add to the festive atmosphere of the event.

  • Artistic Displays: 

The event showcases the artistic talents of the local community. You'll find creative and colorful displays, including calaveras (sugar skulls), papel picado (decorative paper), and intricate sand carpets known as "alfombras de aserrín" made by local artisans.

  • Culinary Delights: 

Sample the delicious and unique Yucatecan cuisine prepared during Hanal Pixan. Seek out local markets and food stalls to savor traditional dishes like mucbipollo, pibipollo, and pan de muerto (Day of the Dead bread). 

Try regional sweets such as marquesitas and cocoyol en miel for a sweet treat. Street vendors and food stalls offer a wide variety of Yucatecan dishes and sweets during El Paseo de las Ánimas. This includes traditional foods like panuchos, salbutes, and marquesitas, providing a taste of the region's culinary delights.

5 tips to enjoy hanal pixan as an american

  • Learn About the Traditions: Before the Hanal Pixan celebrations begin, take the time to research and learn about the customs, symbolism, and history associated with this event. Understanding the significance of the altars, offerings, and other traditions will deepen your appreciation and respect for the festivities.
  • Participate Actively: Don't be a passive observer; immerse yourself in the celebrations. Attend local events, processions, and parades related to Hanal Pixan. Consider joining in by dressing in traditional Yucatecan attire or wearing a calavera (sugar skull) face painting. Engaging with the community is the best way to experience the spirit of the holiday.
  • Taste the Traditional Foods: Yucatecan cuisine shines during Hanal Pixan. Explore local markets and street food stalls to sample traditional dishes like pibipollo, mucbipollo, and pan de muerto. Be open to trying new flavors and dishes that are unique to the region.
  • Respect Cultural Sensitivities: Hanal Pixan is a deeply spiritual and meaningful celebration for the people of Mérida. It's important to be respectful and considerate of local customs and traditions. Ask for permission before taking photos, especially at altars and in cemeteries, and avoid disrupting solemn moments.
  • Engage with Locals: Building connections with local residents can enhance your Hanal Pixan experience. Strike up conversations with your neighbors or coworkers, and ask them about their family's traditions during this time. You might even be invited to join in on private celebrations and gatherings, which can provide a more intimate and authentic experience.

Learn more about: Is it worth to retire to Merida, Mexico?


Don't miss this Hanal Pixan 2023!

This 2023 Hanal Pixán awaits you with multiple activities, both in the city of Mérida and in other municipalities of the state.

So do not hesitate to come and enjoy them and get in touch with Yucatecan spirituality.

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