Dream fulfilled. We have lived the Day of the Dead in Mexico. A dream that had been taken away from us by the pandemic, one more reason why we have been especially excited to fulfill it. And we can only say that it is something that must be done at least once in a lifetime. Or more than one, because in each state of Mexico people live differently. The Day of the Dead celebrations that are most famous are those of the states of the center and center-north of the country, such as Michoacán -there is set the Pixar film Coco-, Puebla, State of Mexico, Mexico City … and only some from the south, such as Oaxaca. But we went to discover how the Day of the Dead in Yucatan and in particular in its capital, Mérida.
Here Mayan traditions are part of the ritual of the celebration. A celebration that, in fact, has a Mayan name: Janal Pixán. What does it mean? Janal Pixán? How is it celebrated?
Come to the Festival of the Souls of Mérida with us and we tell you everything. For now we only tell you that accompanying the candlelit souls on their way from the cemetery has been a traveling experience that will remain engraved in our memory forever.
The Day of the Dead in Mexico
The Day of the Dead it is a celebration of all Mexico that unites the vision of the death of the pre-Hispanic cultures of Mesoamerica and some Christian element. For example, without going any further, the dates: around the day of the Catholic dead, the November 2 -although in its day it was celebrated at that time, close to the corn harvest-.
In the indigenous view, the Day of the Dead represents the Temporary return of the souls of the dead. They return to the world of the living to reunite with their families and loved ones who, to welcome them, prepare them Altars garnished with, among other things, your favorite foods.
In each state and each town the Day of the Dead is celebrated a little differently, in the page of the government of Mexico you have a summary of its origin, the rituals and why in 2008 it was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
What does not change is that families gather to greet their loved ones who return from the afterlife. For those of us who come from countries of Judeo-Christian cultures, the most surprising thing is that these days death not associated with sadness and mourning. Are Holidays, to celebrate the reunion with those who have “gone ahead” in the eternal journey and to remember the good times lived together. This is what we had the hardest time understanding and, at the same time, what made us enjoy the party the most.
Day of the Dead celebration and traditions in Yucatan: the Janal Pixán
In Yucatan the Day of the Dead is the Hanal Pixán or Janal Pixán, which literally means “food of the souls”. The food offered by family and friends to maintain the link with the souls of their deceased, immortal for the Mayans.
October 31 is the Hanal Palal, dedicated to the pixanitos, deceased children. November 1 is the Hanal Nucuch uinicoob, dedicated to the “big” dead, the adults. And November 2 is the Hanal Pixanoob or mass pixán, The day on which a mass dedicated to the souls of the deceased is usually celebrated, usually in cemeteries.
As in the rest of the country, they prepare Altars for the souls, but with local variations. There are still the photos of the deceased and the incense that guides them with its smell. But, if in the center of the country the predominant colors at this time are purple and orange, here it is white, the color of the tablecloth. There are also flowers that symbolize the joy with which the deceased are received, but here, in addition to the typical orange flowers of Cempasúchil of the center of the country, there are local varieties. The candles Light for the souls to find their way, they are black for adults and colored for children. There are also jícaras – containers made with the fruit of the jícaro – with chocolate, corn atole or salt and water, purifying elements.
Nor can you miss the Green Cross, representation of the sacred tree of the Maya, the ceiba, then “Christianized”.
The most different thing is the food: in Yucatan neither bread of the dead nor sugar skulls are common – although they are beginning to be seen. What they are, in addition to atole, are citrus fruits, other fruits and plants, sweet breads, tamales and, above all, Kids or mucbipollos.
And what is gdp or mucbipollo? Well, it is a great tamale stuffed with meat, chicken or pork, tomato sauce and chili. In Mayan it means “buried” and is that it is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in holes dug in the earth. We were lucky enough to see how it was prepared by a family in Pomuch, which is in Campeche, but throughout the Yucatan Peninsula The same tradition exists. You can also see it in a Yucatecan restaurant, such as Pueblo Pibil.
In general, it is a more homemade party than in the rest of the country: there is no tradition of catrinas or large celebrations, nor decoration in the cemeteries pantheons. But there are usually two events: the Walk of souls, a parade that symbolizes the departure of souls to the world of the living from cemeteries to the homes of their loved ones, and the Vaquería de ánimas.
Did you know…?
The Dairies are the traditional festivals of Yucatan. They are so called because, in colonial times, they were celebrated on the occasion of the marking of cattle on haciendas. The center of the party is the town square, where the local dance par excellence is played and danced: the Yucatecan jarana.
Both in the walk of souls and in the vaquerías of souls the souls are represented with makeup, the “Skull” makeup that you will already know. This is not, in fact, a Yucatecan tradition: it is another element “imported” in recent years from other states of Mexico. What is traditional is that the souls wear the Yucatecan costume. The women, the white Yucatecan hipil with embroidered flowers or the gala suit -in three pieces-, with white shoes and flowers on the head. And the men, silk or linen guayabera and dril pants, both white, straw hat, in their pockets a red paliacate – the typical scarf – and Yucatecan espadrilles or heeled sandals.
The Festival de las Ánimas de Mérida
Although the celebrations in the villages can be very suggestive – we live them in Pomuch (Campeche) and Ticul (Yucatan) – as the capital of Yucatan and the largest city of the peninsula, in Merida is where the Day of the Dead It is celebrated more “in a big way”. The walk of souls is the most “massive”, in the vaquería de ánimas professional dance groups participate, there are many more events and a lot of atmosphere. You can’t miss it!
The Paseo de las Ánimas
Undoubtedly, the most important and most exciting event of the Festival of the Souls of Mérida It’s him Walk of the Souls. A walk that begins in the General Cemetery, guided by candlelight. There we stayed for a long time admiring the makeup and traditional costumess of children, adults and adults and hallucinating as children.
Before starting the road, there is a recreation of Pot Ta Pok, the Mayan ball game. Just after the procession begins, at a slow pace, it travels 13 blocks -“blocks” here-, passing through the hermitage of Santa Isabel and reaching the Park of San Juan. In 2022, when it was us, they participated More than 500 souls and, along the route, were placed 232 altars, some from local businesses and organizations, and some from families in those neighborhoods. There was even one of a puppy! There are also plenty of food stalls along the entire route.
The only thing that takes away a bit of charm is that, as the authorities – the mayor in primis – are in the front row, the walk is preceded by a tide of journalists taking photos and videos. A “human barrier” armed with cameras and mobiles. But hey, when they pass you can already enjoy the parade.
The tour starts at 8 pm. We advise you to go a couple of hours before to the stands that are placed just before the entrance of the cemetery. The views from there are the best.
You can also Anima makeup to live the party even more. We don’t doubt it! You have to go to the Plaza de la ermita de Santa Isabel. All the makeup artists are placed there. In less than 10 minutes and for only 40 pesos -about two euros-, you will become an anima for a day. Of course: very important to bring makeup remover wipes! It didn’t cost us to remove our makeup with soap and water… You can arrive around 5/5:30 and then walk the road to the cemetery.
La Vaquería de Ánimas
Every Monday in the Park, the main square, of Mérida there is vaquería. During the celebration of the Janal Pixán The dairy becomes Vaquería de Ánimas, with the dancers Make-up as such. In the basement of the Municipal Palace, the members of the Titular and Youth Folkloric Ballets of the town hall, accompanied by a representation of the Ballet of the Elderly and the Children, entertained us for a long time to the rhythm of the Yucatecan jarana. There were dances with a mixture of Aragonese jota, the dance of the ribbon, a quadrille dance … and even one dedicated to the cochinita pibil – a typical Yucatecan dish!
The Pok Ta Pok of death
Another classic event of every week, in this case on Saturdays, in the Park of Mérida is the representation of the Pok Ta Pok, the Mayan ball game, in which 22 people participate, including musicians and players. This event is also incorporated into the festivities, becoming Pok Ta Pok of death, with the players dressed as souls.
The new Catrinas parade
We have said that the Catrinas are not typical of Yucatan, but they have also reached the Merida Day of the Dead. The great novelty of the Festival de Ánimas of 2022 was the Catrinas Parade, leaving the doors of the cathedral and reaching the top of the Paseo de Montejo. A tribute to the celebration of the Day of the Dead in Central Mexico, with dancers characterized as souls and dressed in the costumes of different states of the country. There were Catrinas, Catrinos – yes, there is Catrina’s masculine! – and even a Drag Queen With dress with altar of the dead included!
More events of the Festival de Ánimas de Mérida
In the Festival of Souls of Mérida there are many more events: a “monumental” altar is placed – 16 meters long and 5 meters high – in the Park, there is a mucbipollo fair, free musicals – Coco’s when we went – and even a visit to a ghost hacienda! Yes, we also went to the abandoned hacienda of Misnébalam The night of the 31st to listen to their ghost stories… We didn’t have to call the ghostbusters, but it was interesting. As well as the Sample of traditional altars in front of the nearby abandoned hacienda of Xcunyá.
On the official website of the city of Mérida you have the whole program in detail, here the one in 2022 to give you an idea.
A dream fulfilled and yes, you had to live it at least once.
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Artículo publicado en saltaconmigo.com