Food of soul : Hanal Pixán

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 on this day.

Centuries ago in the Mayan community cemeteries did not exist. The Maya buried their dead in their own backyards close to their heart and home. A hole was dug which kept in it the body of the deceased.  Inside every deceased Mayan’s mouth, a certain amount of well cooked corn named “keyem” was placed. This was left there so that the soul could feed while in eternal resting.  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  lasts until the 2nd of November of every year.  Loved ones who are deceased, are not thought to be gone definitely. Tradition says their souls are still present, and the deceased faithfully arrive each year to visit and be honoured 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, these include but are not limited to “atole de maíz”, “mucbilpollos”, tangerines, oranges, papaya sweets, coconuts, “jícamas”, as well as “tamales” “relleno negro” and “escabeche”.  The altar is decorated with candles, marigold flowers, branches of ruda, “jícaras” and pictures of the deceased. On the eve of the celebration in the center above the altar a green wooden cross is placed, representing the Ceiba tree, which in Mayan 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 accustomed 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, dedicated solely to  dead adults.  Besides the food and beverages, “aguardiente” and cigarettes are altered.  The last and third 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 accustomed that at the ending of the 3 day celebration, which is popularly known in the mestizo community as el “día de los muertos,” 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 Mayan 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 new exhibition “The Hanal Pixan Display” already opened at the Corozal  House of Culture in Belize. This display will be on until mid-November. Welcome to visit it.

More inormation please check “Corozal House of Culture (NICH)” (