Quick Guide to Hanal Pixan
Hanal Pixan / Janal Pixan - Comida de Almas / Food for Souls
In traditional Mayan belief, the dead are not gone, but inhabit an underworld plane similar to our own. From the end of October through early November, souls have permission to visit their relatives who prepare treats they enjoyed while alive. Tables like altars outside; festooned with palm leaves, red and yellow flowers, photographs, copal (funerary) incense, candles, honey and traditional foods. Often there are special items for particular family members; If the deceased was young the offering might include sweets and toys; for adults, these might be mezcal and tobacco.
The offerings include references to the four elements of fire water, earth and air: candles, a well, food and incense.
Souls that have no relatives or altar for them may become depressed and begin returning to the land of the dead without making a visitation. For these lonely souls, a small and simple altar is placed in a corner of the house with various offerings. Lonely spirits are to be welcomed wholeheartedly.
In antiquity, Mayans buried their dead with food and tools to comfort them during their journey through the underworld. The modern tradition arose as these funerary traditions were influenced by the beliefs of European conquerors. Today, we enjoy a rich and meaningful time of ceremony and venerance for ancestors.
Evenings of Significance
- The Friday before November 1 (October 27 this year) is Merida's Paseo de las Animas. This festivity, begun in 2008 by the Merida city government, allows everyone to enjoy the traditions of Hanal Pixan in the city. There is a parade that evening which makes stops begins at the Arco de San Juan and proceeds to La Ermita de Santa Isabel plaza and, finally the Cementerio General before returning. Participants wear traditional Mayan costume like the huipil and paint their faces to look like skeletons. This is a great event for families as there are many special activities if you are in Merida.
- October 31 is the traditional beginning of Hanal Pixan, dedicated to deceased children. It is called Mehen Pixán or Chichán Pixán.
- November 1 is the Day of the Dead for adults and is called Nohoch Pixán.
- November 2 is the “Day of the Faithful Departed” called Misa Pixán. It is a day with mass dedicated to the souls of the departed, usually performed in the local cemetery.
- Finally, on November 8 or 9 is the Ochavario or Bix. During those evenings, a path of lime is formed leading to the doors of houses and candles placed so the souls can see their way when withdrawing back to the land of the dead.
- It is customary, especially in rural areas, for children to wear a red or black ribbon on the right wrist during this time.
- It is also customary to tie up any domesticated animals who might see the visiting souls and prevent their passage to the altar.
- Houses are cleaned meticulously at this time, so the visiting souls do not feel obligated to tidy up.
- There is no hunting at this time, nor sewing. It is believed that the dead may be spooked by the loud bang of the gun or fear their soul will be sewn in place.
As food plays a major role in this yearly ritual, here is a list of the traditional dishes (expanding on the list at Merida Ayuntamiento).
- Pib: This is a method of cooking meat in an earthen oven. Food is placed between banana leaves and covered with coals and earth to cook the meat for a long time. The dish prepared in a pib is often pibipollo or mucbipollo.
- Chachac wajes: Colored tamale. Its name means red bread because it is prepared with achiote, a powdered red spice.
- Chilmole: Stew made with burnt chile, meat, tomato and other legumes. The term is of Nahuatl origin, since chil is chile and mole is sauce, broth or stew.
- Salbut: A crispy fried flatbread is covered with lettuce, onions, avocado, meat and other toppings.
- Chacbi nal: Boiled corn.
- Pibi nal: Corn cooked underground in a pib.
- Xek: Mixture made with orange, mandarin, jicama and other fruits; seasoned with ground chili or other spices.
- Chay wah: Tamale made with chopped chaya.
- Buli wah: Tortilla made with new bean or spelt, which is cooked in a water bath or oven.
- Is wah: New corn tortilla, sweet or salty and toasted.
- Atole: A sweet corn drink made from hominy, water, sugar and seasonings like vanilla, cocoa or cinnamon.
For more first-hand accounts of the Working Gringos and Hanal Pixan in Merida, check out this article with archive links at the bottom and…
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