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Day of the Dead or Hanal Pixan?

We just received an email from the Institut de Cultura de Yucatan (ICY – Yucatan Culture Institute) telling us what’s happening on the Day of the Dead in Merida. In typical Yucatecan fashion, they think everyone already knows, so they don’t bother to mention it more than a week (or often a day) before it happens.

But, finally, we have exact times and dates of what is happening for Hanal Pixán, the Mayan celebration of the Dead, in downtown Merida. On the morning of October 31st at 11:00 am, altars will be built in the Plaza Grande as muestras (demonstrations). If past experience serves us, many of these altars will be inside just-built Mayan huts of sticks and palapa roofs. The altars will be set not only with the well-known sugar skulls and other candies that you can buy at the local mercado, but many religious objects, photographs and favorite drinks and foods of the dearly departed. They will also feature mucbil pollo, the Mayan dish that is especially prepared and eaten during this holiday, wrapped in a napkin.

Last year, as our most faithful readers will remember, we missed la muestra in the Plaza Grande, arriving a few hours too late. But we did make it to the mercado for the sugar skulls and built our own altar to our own ancestors (that’s Working Gringa’s grandmother on the right inside the blue box, and Working Gringo’s father on the left). We included the traditional marigolds, candles, incense, a shot of Johnny Walker Black Label, a few cigarettes and a small bottle of Mitsuoko perfume. The cigarettes were for Dad, the perfume for Oma, and we let the two of them fight over the whisky.

This year, we’re going to make it to the Plaza Grande in time to see the demonstration altars. There is something else going on there too. At 7 PM in the zocalo (that’s another name for the Plaza Grande, by the way) there will be something called Delirio Teatral, the 20th Anniversary of Santa Lucia. This might be the little parade that we saw last year in Santa Lucia Park, or it might not. Later Tuesday night, we’ll be attending the Cena Negra (Black Dinner) at El Templo. Considering that Working Gringa is hobbling around like something out of Night of the Living Dead, actually getting to see all these events in one day is going to be something of a challenge. But we’re sure our friends at Dropped In and The Road to Merida will be there, taking great photos and reporting events on their blogs.

In the email we received, there is also an announcement of a special ballet, put on by the Ballet Folklorico of Yucatan and the Mayan Jarana Orchestra. The show is called Rituales de Magia y Muerte (Rituals of Magic and Death), and it will be at the Jose Peon Contreras Theater. This show will happen at 9 PM on November 1 and general admission is $50 pesos, with discounts for students and teachers. The photo that accompanies the announcement shows a line of Mayan women crossing the stage in huipiles and going behind what looks like a giant stone. Should be interesting!

Our celebrations aren’t going to end there. Since we cancelled our trip to Michoacan because of Working Gringa’s unfortunate accident, we haven’t clarified yet if our friends in Oxtapacab will be celebrating Hanal Pixan this week or next. When they thought we were going away, they had postponed their celebration. We were there last year for the event, and these photos were taken inside their small home, where Soco’s uncle first blessed the mucbil pollo, and then sang religious songs to his ancestors, accompanying himself on his treasured calliope, his sisters (including Soco’s mother) and we looked on. After the informal but heartfelt ceremony, we all enjoyed a homecooked meal before heading home. We’re hoping that we will get to participate in something similar this year, whichever week it happens. And of course, we’ll take photos and we’ll be sure to share.

We’ve noticed that Halloween is definitely gaining ground here in Merida as a celebrated holiday. All the stores are full of Halloween costumes (including adorable Pancho Villa and Zapata costumes) and candy and plastic pumpkins. The costume stores that provide costumes for Carnaval certainly do their part to see to it that Merida celebrates Halloween as well. And of course, what kid is going to pass up a holiday that involves free candy? So we’ll have some candy waiting by the door this year, just in case.

Each year as we celebrate this holiday, we gain a deeper understanding of the wisdom of celebrating and communicating with your loved ones who have passed away. Sharing a meal and a drink with the people you love and miss seems to us a very wise way of coping with this painful loss that is a universal experience. We hope you all enjoy your own personal celebration of Day of the Dead.

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Additional note: We finally made it to the Plaza Grande in time to see the Hanal Pixan altars that are set up by Mayans from various pueblos and by various groups within the city. You can see our photos in the Photo Gallery in the category called Day of the Dead.

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26 Responses to “Day of the Dead or Hanal Pixan?”

  1. Grant wrote us and referred us to the article linked at the end of our post about Hanal Pixán in the local pueblo of Pomuch. Though the article says this ritual of bone cleaning only happens in Pomuch, we are pretty sure it is quite widespread throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. And Grant says he has heard of it among Mayans in Guatemala as well.

  2. We have fond memories of being in Merida on the Day of the Dead. I found the celebration to be very positive and a recognition of the continuity of life. The altar that are prepared at this time of year with mementos of loved ones are touching. The concept of the community of saints which is a traditional Catholic teaching harmonizes very well with this celebration which predates the Christian influence in Mexico. It is a good example of inculturation.

  3. ONE OF THE THINGS I MISS IS A SPECIAL MAYAN FOOD. YOU MENTIONED THE NAME OF A FOOD AT THE START OF THIS ARTICLE. BUT, FROM WHAT MY WIFE, ARIADNA, 100% YUCATECA, TELLS ME. THE NAME SOUNDS LIKE: PIP. IT IS A TAMAL LIKE FOOD, WRAPPED AND COOKED IN A BANANA LEAF, JUST LIKE A YUCATECA TAMALE. AS I SAID, THE NAME SOUNDS LIKE PIP. HOW IT’S SPELLED, I DON’T KNOW. I MISS MANY THINGS IN MERIDA. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH WOULD BLOCK OFF SECTIONS OF PASEO DE MONTEJO. AND, THEY WOULD HAVE BOOTHS, FOOD, AND PLAYS FOR THE CHILDREN. IT’S NOT CARNAVAL. BUT, AN EVENT SPONSORED BY THE CHURCH IN MERIDA.

    FELIZ DIA DE LOS MORETOS.

  4. I’ve been in Yucatan several times during Day of the Dead and it is a wonderful time. Working Gringos, hope you don’t mind but I’m leaving a link to some of my photos from Yucatan during this time.
    http://flickr.com/photos/billie_mercer/sets/141443/

  5. Hi Carlos! mucbil pollo is also called pib. It is really, really good. I had some made in an oven and my friend told me that if I liked that, I would love the authentic stuff!

    Theresa

  6. [...] #8: From Mexico, Yucatan Living  writes about a national cultural event: The day of the dead. If past experience serves us, many of these altars will be inside just-built Mayan huts of sticks and palapa roofs. The altars will be set not only with the well-known sugar skulls and other candies that you can buy at the local mercado, but many religious objects, photographs and favorite drinks and foods of the dearly departed. They will also feature mucbil pollo, the Mayan dish that is especially prepared and eaten during this holiday, wrapped in a napkin. Read the complete post… Melissa De Leòn Douglass [...]

  7. Thanks Billie! Post links to your beautiful photos here anytime… we love them!

  8. [...] I am posting photographs taken in late October. There are general photos of the market, where people are preparing to welcome back the spirits during Hanal Pixan, more commonly known as Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)[...]

  9. http://www.mariarogal.com/weblog/wp-trackback.php?p=62

  10. Well, I’m glad you got to see everything even hobbling along. We walked and walked every night and saw nothing. I saw the huts being taken down but seemed to have missed it all. I did get a chance to buy sugar skulls as well as halloween cookies that were rather tasty from a large bakery in Campestre somewhere. And we managed to witness a real live praying ceremony in San Juan right outside the front door of an old colonial across the street from a house we tried to buy but were outbid on. It seems the whole family was gathered around the altar lit with candles, chanting something we didn’t understand but it was really nice to see it first hand. The next day we looked at another house and the nice lady showed us her altar complete with robed spirit made of sugar holding a little bottle of cerveza. We’ll have a picture of that on our website at some point.

  11. If you are interested in the Mayan Day of the Dead from a Guatemalan perspective, check out some photos.

  12. Is it possible that my son is the reincarnation of my great granfather. What is the mayan beliefs about souls and where they go?

  13. I want to go to merida in nov 2007. How do I know where, when and what events will take place? Ayudame!

  14. Yvette, Stay tuned to our Events page… we publish a new one every Monday (well, sometimes Tuesday…) and we update it throughout the week. As we hear of things happening this year, we’ll post them. In general, though, the same things should be happening in the Plaza Grande at about the same times.

  15. [...] to next week’s festivities celebrating the Day of the Dead and All Souls’ Day, called Hanal Pixan in Mayan. We are on pins and needles, wondering which of the Schools at UADY is going to win the [...]

  16. I’m 100% Yucateca but I was born in the US and i looooooooooooove pib. i usually drink it with a glass of Horchata but if we don’t have any I just stick to milk.
    Always Proud,
    Yucaterca

  17. Sandra If you belive in leyendas then yes its possible

  18. I’ve read the Maya believed in cycles of time, rather than time as a linear concept. Children were – I’ve read = named after grandparents, in the belief that they were the ‘replacements’ in time for those older and about to ‘leave’ in the cycle of time. (Or that their grandparents’ names were incorporated into the new borns new names.)

    So, anyway, Sandra, if what I have read is true, then it isn’t too far out of line with some very old beliefs.

  19. [...] to read more about Day of the Dead? See our Hanal Pixan article here, our mucbil pollo article here, another Day of the Dead article here, and finally, our Day of the [...]

  20. Carlos: “Pib” is short for Pibil. I’ve had two kinds: Cochinita Pibil (made with pork) and Pollo Pibil (chicken). Yes, they’re great. Don’t know about the special one for Hanal Pixan.

    I wish a Yucatecan restaurant would open up in the Detroit area, but there don’t seem to be many Yucas around here.

  21. Carlos and Bruce, ‘pib’ is the Mayan word for the earthen oven that they dig in the ground, fill with coals and bake any number of things that are wrapped in banana leaves. The word ‘pibil’ means ‘from a pib’. However, Yucatecos also call Mucbil Pollo, the traditional tamale that the Maya bake for Hanal Pixan, a ‘pib’ because it comes out of one, although these days they’re mostly baked in a conventional oven. What we haven’t seen yet is frozen pib for microwave, at which point they’ll probably be called ‘microondas’.

  22. WG — thanks for setting me straight on “pib”. I’ve seen it used informally for the dish(es), too, albeit only in English.

    (Now, if I could only get my hands on some naranja agria (sp?) up here in Michigan , I could make myself some poc chuc…)

  23. I love the site and keep up the great work lulz

  24. [...] 2006 Day of the Dead or Hanal Pixan? [...]

  25. Hello, I was wondering if I could use one of the pictures from this article for a project I’m doing in my AP Spanish class. I have to create a blog about a fictional trip to Merida, Yucatan and use pictures. I just wanted to get permission before I tried to post in on my fictional blog. Please get back to me! Thanks!

    -Jessica

  26. Go ahead, Jessica. Just please give Yucatan Living the credit (in your blog, with a link) for the photos. Thanks!

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