Hanal Pixán is the name given to the “Day of the Dead” celebrations of the Maya people from the Yucatan Peninsula. The term literally translates as ” nourishment for souls ” in the Mayan language.
“Hanal Pixán” is the Mayan tradition carried out to remember relatives and friends who have passed away. It takes place from October 31 to November 2, when the souls are permitted to return and visit their relatives.
This tradition includes several ways to honor the dead, with the main one consisting of setting a table that functions as an altar, lit with wax candles. Food takes on a very special meaning as traditional dishes are prepared for the spirits who will return to visit their families. Contrary to what many people think, this holiday is a way of celebrating life and honoring family and friends that have departed.
Families set up a table that functions as an altar in their home, go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and prepare to greet the souls of the departed by cleaning their home as if they were expecting visitors. The spirits of children who have died return first. It is called “u hanal palal” and a special offering is prepared for them that will include toys, chocolate, and other sweets.
The second day, November 1, is dedicated to the adults and it is called “u hanal nucuch uinicoob”. In the altar, food, cigarettes, alcohol, and all kinds of foods the deceased liked in their physical lives can be found. These are usually placed near a tree or near the place where our loved ones are buried.
The third day is the “u hanal pixanoob”. That day, a service or mass is held, usually in the public cemetery for all the souls.
Although spirits are not seen as malevolent, they may play tricks or become attached to the life they once had, so in the rural villages people maintain certain beliefs: usually a red or black string is tied around the wrist of children, believing that will protect them from the spirits. It is also a tradition to tie up animals that usually roam free so these animals do not get in the way of the spirits.
The food for Hanal Pixán
The foods prepared for Hanal Pixán are unique to the Maya people. Perhaps this is the main difference between “Día de Muertos” (Day of the Dead) in the rest of Mexico and Yucatan, that has its own particular food associated with the holiday.
Yucatán´s most important food for the holiday is the “mucbipollo”. The name of this dish is a composite Mayan and Spanish words. In Maya: Muk means “to bury” and Bil that means “to stir”. The two words together: Mukbil, literally mean: “that has been buried”. Mukbil-Pollo (Pollo – chicken) means “Chicken that has been buried”.
Yucatecos despise this comparison, but to certain extent, the “mucbipollo” is similar to a tamal except it is much larger than a normal tamal and of a crunchy exterior. It is made with corn dough and chicken, even though some people also add slow-roasted pork to it, and wrap it in banana leaves, to then cook it in an underground pit called a “pib”. In more modern times, people cook this food in either a regular oven at home or a wood-fired oven.
The mucbipollo and other traditional foods and drinks such as “Balché”, “X´tabentun“, or rum are placed on the table, set up with a white tablecloth and candles. The dead enjoy the essence of the foods and later, the living will consume what is left. It is also customary to put out a plate for the lonely souls, those who don’t have anyone to remember them.
These nights are often beaming with light from the doors of the houses and the “albarradas” (the walls outside the house) where rows of candles are lit for souls to follow and find their way back home to meet once again with their loved ones.
This is “Hanal Pixan”… This is Yucatan
In our native language we say to you: “Yuumbo’otik yaantal ts’o’oksik” (thank you all for reading)
The Yucatan Times