San Pedro Town celebrates the traditional Day of the Dead
Wednesday, November 6th, 2013
San Pedro Town celebrated Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with two celebrations. The first was with an early mass at the community cemetery on Saturday November 2nd followed by the blessing of the community altar as part of the Hanal Pixan Celebration. The events were coordinated through the San Pedro Cultural Committee and included the collaboration of several volunteers as well as the participation of the San Pedro Roman Catholic Church.
But what is the Hanal Pixan? The San Pedro Sun, in an effort to bring a bit of cultural history to its readers as it relates to centuries-old regional celebration, re-prints the History of Hanal Pixan published by the San Pedro House of Culture.
Hanal Pixán in the Mayan language means “food of souls.” This is the name given to Day of the Dead celebrations in the Maya area. In this region, food takes on a special meaning as traditional dishes are prepared for the spirits who are believed to return [to the living world] on this day.
Centuries ago in the Maya community, cemeteries did not exist. The Maya buried their dead in their own backyards close to their heart and home. A hole was dug to keep the body of the deceased. Inside every deceased Maya’s mouth, a certain amount of well-cooked corn named “keyem” was placed. This was left there so that the soul could feed while at eternal rest. In the “keyem” lies the initiation of the Maya tradition of feeding the souls.
As the sun rises every 31st of October, so does the beginning of the celebration of Hanal Pixan, and it last until the 2nd of November of every year. Deceased loved ones are not thought to be gone definitely. Tradition says their souls are still present, and that they faithfully arrive each year to visit and be honored by their family and friends.
The tradition includes various rites, the main one being the creation of an altar in which a special feast is placed. The food that is typically served is the favorite of the deceased. Seasonal fruits and food are also placed on the altar, including – but not limited to – “atole de maíz (a corn drink)”, “mucbilpollos (round tamales)”, tangerines, oranges, papaya sweets, coconuts, “jícamas (Mexican Yam or Mexican Turnip)”, as well as “tamales” “relleno negro (chicken stuffed with meat cooked in a black soup)” and “escabeche (sour onion soup)”. The altar is decorated with candles, marigold flowers, branches of ruda (a type of herb), “jícaras (Calabash)” and pictures of the deceased. On the eve of the celebration, in the center above the altar a green wooden cross is placed. The cross represents the Ceiba tree, which in Maya tradition symbolizes the universe and its division into three levels.
U Hanal Palal is the name of the first day which is dedicated solely to children. It is a custom that children wear a black or red cloth bracelet in the right hand, so that deceased visitors do not take them. Household pets are tied or confined during the celebrations so as to not scare away the visitors, or to obstruct their way to the altar. The children’s altar is usually more festive and colorful, adorned with distinct embroidered tablecloths. They also receive chocolates and an assortment of seasonal sweets, along with honey and toys.
The 1st of November is the second day, called U Hanal Nucuchuinicoob, and is dedicated solely to dead adults. Besides the food and beverages, “aguardiente (alcohol)” and cigarettes are also offered. The third and final day is the U Hanal Pixanoob, also referred to as “misa pixan”. This is a mass normally celebrated in the town’s cemetery honoring departed family and friends. It is customary that at the ending of the 3-day celebration, which is popularly known in the Mestizo community as el “Día de Los Muertos, (The day of the dead),” friends and family join to share meals, sweets, and beverages in remembrance of the deceased.
One week later, the “Bix” or “Octavario de día de Finados” is celebrated. This reunion is a smaller version of the prior Hanal Pixan. Rows of candles are placed on the veranda and in the main entrance of the house, so that the souls can see their way out of the realm of the living to return to their eternal resting place.
In the Maya tradition, people die three deaths. The first death is when our bodies cease to function. The second death comes when the body is lowered into the ground, returning to mother earth. The third death, the most definitive death, is when there is no one left alive to remember us.
The San Pedro Cultural Committee takes the opportunity to thank all those who sponsored and assisted in making two events possible.