TULUM, Mexico – The ancient Mayan tradition of Hanal Pixán, also known as the “Feast of the Souls,” is a deeply cherished cultural observance that takes place to honor departed loved ones and friends. It serves as a poignant reminder of those who have embarked on their eternal journey. For the bereaved, this event holds great significance, as it is believed that during the three days from October 31st to November 2nd, the souls of the departed are granted permission to visit their living relatives.
Day 1: U Hanal Palal – Honoring the Children
The festivities commence on October 31st, which is dedicated to children who have passed away. This day is known as “U Hanal Palal.” Families lovingly prepare altars adorned with vibrant, cheerful tablecloths, and alongside the customary offerings, sweet treats and toys are placed. The altars are adorned with yellow xpujuc flowers, red xtés, and Virginias to create a vibrant and joyful atmosphere.
Day 2: U Hanal Nucuch Uinicoob – Remembering the Adults
November 1st marks the second day of Hanal Pixán, dedicated to the departed adults, known as “U Hanal Nucuch Uinicoob.” The altars during this day are transformed, focusing on the adults’ favorite foods, and are illuminated by candles and memories.
Day 3: U Hanal Pixanoob or Misa Pixán – The Day of the Souls
On the third and final day of Hanal Pixán, known as “U Hanal Pixanoob” or in some regions, “Misa Pixán,” a special mass is held in honor of the departed souls, usually at the community cemetery. The tradition continues with the creation of altars, lit with wax candles, beneath the trees, and near the family graves.
The centerpiece of the altar is the seasonal food, which includes new atole, pibes, jícamas, mandarinas, oranges, and xec, a blend of orange, mandarin, jicama, and other fruits, spiced with ground chili. The offerings also feature sweet papaya, coconut, pumpkin seeds, tamales de x’pelón, vaporcitos, and the traditional balché, a fermented drink made from the bark of a specific tree. Additionally, sweet bread and jícaras filled with the delectable tan-chucuá atole, a concoction made from corn masa, cacao, pepper, and anise, complete the elaborate display. Veladoras (candles), flowers, ruda branches, and photographs of the deceased are carefully arranged to create a reverent atmosphere.
The Mucbipollo – A Culinary Delight
A central element of Hanal Pixán is the Mucbipollo, a substantial tamale made from corn masa and lard, generously stuffed with chicken, and pork, and seasoned with tomatoes and chilies. This maize cake is wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooked in a wood-fired oven or, ideally, in a hole dug in the ground, where it is traditionally prepared by being buried. Alongside the Mucbipollo, large dzol pumpkins, jícamas, sweet potatoes, tender corn cobs known as pibinales, and masa and bean cakes called pibil–x’pelón are also buried in the underground oven, infusing each offering with the rich, earthy flavors of this unique cooking method.
The Pan de Muerto – A New Addition
In recent years, the custom of consuming and including Pan de Muerto, a bread originally from the central regions of Mexico, has gained popularity among the Yucatecan people during the Day of the Dead celebrations. This sweet bread, often adorned with bone-shaped decorations, has been integrated into the local festivities, providing a delicious addition to the altars, alongside traditional sugar skull candies, known as “calaveras,” personalized with the names of the departed.
The Bix – An Ongoing Celebration
A week later, the “bix,” also referred to as the “ochovario del día de finados” or the “octava,” takes place. This simpler repetition of the previous festivities involves lighting rows of candles in front of houses and on the walls to guide the souls as they arrive and depart from the town throughout the night.
Hanal Pixán, the “Feast of the Souls,” is a time-honored tradition that beautifully intertwines the cultural heritage of the Mayan people with the heartfelt remembrance of loved ones who have crossed over to the other side. It’s a celebration that combines rich culinary traditions, colorful floral arrangements, and a deep sense of spirituality, ensuring that the souls of the departed are cherished and remembered in a truly unique and heartfelt way.
In Tulum, Mexico, and across the Yucatán Peninsula, this three-day festival serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring connection between the living and the departed, creating a vibrant tapestry of cultural and spiritual significance that continues to thrive through the generations.