Celebrating Hanal Pixan and Day of the Dead in Cancun

by Cara Gourley on October 28, 2010

Hanal Pixan altar

While most of Mexico celebrates Day of the Dead – an Aztec tradition combined with Christian beliefs – Cancun and the Yucatan Pennisula celebrate a different Mayan version called Hanal Pixán. It is similar to Day of the Dead in the fact that the souls of the dead come back to visit and there are decorated altars, cemetery visits and lots of celebration.

What is Hanal Pixan?

Hanal Pixán means “food for the soul” and is celebrated on October 31st, November 1st and November 2nd. The first day U Hanal Palala is dedicated to children who have passed away. The second day U Hanal Nuchuch Uinicoob is dedicated to the deceased adults.  The third day U Hanal Pixanoob is dedicated to all of the souls of the dead and usually takes place in the cemetery of the population.

A week after the celebration is the Bix, where candles are set up to guide the spirits back home.

Hanal Pixan Celebrations in the Cancun Area

If you are visiting Cancun or the Riviera Maya during this time, be ready for a colorful celebration. During Hanal Pixán/Day of the Dead the city and surrounding area comes alive with brightly colored altars dedicated to those who have passed away. Expect to see colored paper, candles, flowers, food and drinks. On children’s altars sweets and toys are left out while the adults receive their favorite food, drink and music. You will be able to see some of these in the hotels and restaurants as well as in the homes of the locals.

If you are looking to be a part of the celebration, check out Xcaret’s Life and Death Celebration. Xcaret will be celebrating a mix of the Independence Bicentennial, the Centennial of the Revolution and the Day of the Dead/All Saints Day/Hanal Pixán. Expect everything from traditional altars and prayers to historical and literary discussions. There will also be traditional dances and concerts as well as culinary and visual arts exhibitions.

The town of Merida – a few hours away from Cancun – is known for it’s elaborate celebration of Hanal Pixan. You will find elaborate altars around the Main Plaza. Many people also bring many flower bouquets to the cemeteries. You will find a complete listing of Merida events here.

Have you every experienced Day of the Dead/Hanal Pixán in Cancun? Tell us about it!

Photo: Flickr/uteart_away.picking.seashells

Cara is the Director of Web and Video Production at All About Mexico. She loves traveling, taking photos of everything and writing about Mexico. You can follow her on twitter - @allaboutcara.
Cara Gourley
View all posts by Cara Gourley

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