The Day of the Dead and the Hanal Pixán | LDS Tours Cancun

The Day of the Dead is a Mexican tradition that dates from the pre-Columbian era. For humankind, what happens after death has always been a mystery. That same curiosity has led people to create diverse traditions and sacred rituals to venerate, frighten, and even mock death.

There are records in many ancient Mexican cultures, indicating that people prepared the tombs where their beloved ones will rest for eternity, with tools, supplies, and even treasures to undertake the trip to that place where all the souls would go after their passage through the earth. For the Mexica civilization, and other cultures in Mexico, Mictlán or the Chiconauhmictlán, was the place where all the dead would meet after this life. Meanwhile, the Mayan would go to the Xibalbá, as they were confident that death was not the end of life. 

How is Day of the Dead celebrated?

Without a doubt, the Day of the Dead in Mexico is considered a great festivity. It is the celebration where the deceased and the living come together to enjoy the offerings.  

The belief that the souls of the deceased will return on specific dates makes this celebration a great opportunity to pay tribute to friends and family that have passed away.

The family of the deceased places offerings in their houses to welcome the souls. The dead will be honored on a specific day, depending on what circumstances they left this world. Those offerings will have traditional food, such as Mole Poblano, Enchiladas Verdespan de Muerto (a sweet bread in the shape of bones sprinkled with a sugarcoat), drinks, candy, a photo of the deceased, and decorations. 

Candlelights, meaning hope, in the altar will also represent each one of the souls that would come to visit the family; the flower cempasuchil or Cempasúchitl (marigold flowers), will adorn the altars, as this flower is the flower of the dead. As for water and salt, each one of them, respectively, represent life, and purification for the journey of the deceased. 

Cempasúchitl (marigold flowers)

Important dates

The towns that still carry the indigenous tradition start the celebration as of the last week of October to receive the souls.

  • October 28th, to remember the souls of those who had a sudden and violent death.
  • October 29th, to remember the souls of those who died drowned.
  • October 30th is dedicated to the forgotten and lonely souls. Souls that no longer have families to remember them, the souls of orphans, and in the worst case of criminals.
  • October 31st, the souls of those who were never born are welcomed.
  • November 1st is dedicated to the souls of the deceased children.
  • November 2nd, dedicated to the souls of the deceased adults.

The Day of the Dead was declared as a cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO in 2008.

Hanal Pixán

As for the Mayan culture, the Hanal Pixán or, “Food of Souls,” is the celebration of life through food offerings, ball games, altars, and walks. A party full of color, Hanal Pixán, is still a current tradition where offerings are installed with delicious food, sweets, and favorite drinks. Photos and precious objects from the deceased will also be placed in the offering. The Hanal Pixán starts on October 31st, with the celebration of the children, which is called U Hanal Palal. On November 1st, the day of deceased adults is known as U Hanal Nucuch Uinicoob, and, finally but not least, November 2nd is to celebrate all saints, traditionally called U Hanal Pixanoob

A fun fact is that people used to tie red or white ribbons around the wrists of children to protect them from the dead to claim their souls. They also tied all the animals so that these did not prevent the passage of souls to offerings. At present, this celebration is still taking place in some towns in Yucatan, Mexico. 

Alma’s LDS Tours offers a great variety of tours where you can keep learning more about the traditions and culture in Mexico.
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