November 1 and 2 are the days in which people in Mexico prepare to receive and think about the dead, so it today’s blog we will look at the traditions of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. It will be celebrated with festivals, contests, craft shows and activities based around the topic of death. Mexico is unique among countries in the way it pays homage to death.
Many people have written about Mexico’s relationship with death. The altars and offerings seen during the Day of the Dead are designed for different purposes. Altars might be dedicated to a Catholic saint or divinity, a loved one, a family member, or a friend.
These altars are a mixture of pre-Hispanic rituals and those of the Catholic religion, which have converged to make for a unique blend of traditions. They vary according to the region, but the deeper meaning remains the same: waiting and reuniting with those who have already passed away.
The belief is that the deceased return on November 1 and 2 to enjoy what they liked while they were alive. The alters include offerings of candles, chocolate, pan de muerto, wine, the deceased’s favorite food, toys, and crushed colored paper. Many people still put their offerings in their homes waiting for their dead.
The “Hanal pixán” (translated as food of souls) is a tradition of the Maya people where they remember their loved ones who have died. They believe that the souls have permission to return to our world for a brief time each year, and because of this, elaborate dishes and altars are prepared to receive them.
The traditions surrounding Hanal Pixán are similar to Day of the Dead celebrations in other parts of Mexico. Families set up altars in their homes and decorate graves in the cemeteries. On the altar typical seasonal food is placed: atole, mucbipollos, jicama, mandarin oranges, oranges, xec, papaya candies, coconut, pumpkin seeds, tamales, and containers of tan-chucuá.
Every day of Hanal Pixán has a different significance to the typical Day of the Dead celebrations. From October 31 to November 2, souls are “given permission” to visit relatives. During the Days of Dead, souls return to their homes and “taste” the dishes that their families have left out for them.
October 31 is dedicated to children who have died and is called U Hanal Palal, November 1 is called U Hanal Nucuch Uinicoob and is dedicated to deceased adults, while November 2 is called U Hanal Pixanoob and is when families offer food for the souls.
The Hanal Pixán tradition is more common in the southern communities of the state such as Lázaro Cárdenas, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, José María Morelos and Tulum where people prepare a purification ritual in order to welcome their dead.
In many small towns, local villagers will work with tour companies to share this Day of the Dead tradition. Eight days after Hanal Pixán, Maya people celebrate the bix, where lines of candles are lighted so the dead find their way home. These candles represent the ceiba (the Maya sacred tree), the connection between life and death. Candles are also placed on the altars representing the 13 layers of the universe. The black one stands for the root which connects us to the underworld.
While out and about in the Riviera Maya you will likely encounter the image of a skeletal figure, either as large paper mache figurines or appearing on people’s faces through makeup. It is known as La Calavera Catrina (Dapper Skeleton), and it has become an icon of the Mexican Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead.
It was originally created by a lithographer and printer named Jose Guadalupe Posada in 1910, but was finally given a name when painter Diego Rivera used it in one of his murals and called it “La Catrina.” It has become a part of Mexican culture, symbolizing the contrasts between the upper and lower classes in the country. The female skeleton is dressed in a hat that indicates the upper-class outfit of a European in the early 20th century. In Mexico, the social classes have always had a great divide between them, with the highest class enjoying many privileges. Posada’s representation of the skeleton was his way of commenting on the fact that many Mexicans were attempting to hide their mestizo origins through the adoption of European aristocratic traditions.
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