We live in the rumbo/barrio/neighborhood of San Sebastian, which has it’s own church. We are also just a block away from the church la Ermita de Santa Isabel de Hermitage, which has a lovely Parque La Ermita just across the street from it.
For the 3rd or 4th year now the Ayuntamiento AND various other organizations have sponsored a Hanal Pixán event on the street between the park and the church, reportedly for tourism. Trust me, WAY more locals come to this event than tourists. More than 200 altars are reported to have been presented by the different neighborhoods of Mérida this year.
Dia de los Muertos celebrations vary regionally here in Mexico, with the Yucatán’s Hanal Pixán being a bit different from the rest.
There are actually two Days of the Dead: November 1 and November 2. The tradition dates back to the Aztec civilization. Coincidentally or not, these days are also the Catholic holy days of All Saints’ and All Souls’ days. In Mexican culture, the lines between ancient tradition and the customs of the Spanish Conquistadors frequently blur.
November 1, is reserved for the children, for honoring the souls of the little angelitos. November 2 the adults are remembered.
The Maya people believe in immortality of the soul. As a part of this belief system they created a series of worlds where the dead would go, according to their destinies, sort of like Dante’s Inferno and the 9 levels of hell, although not all go to hell or purgatory.
Day of the Dead, or el Dia de los Muertos, is a happy celebration in Mexico when the souls of the departed (difuntos) return to join their families and friends in the land of the living. It is a joyous time, celebrated without tears, which can make the return pathway slippery.
The Dead are full of Life.
We see it in the statues, toys and trinkets of el Dia De Los Muertos. Miniature skeletons sporting mohawks and big grins play in rock bands. Paper mache skulls bear pink flowers for eyes and green lizards on their brows. Wooden skeletons on rods dance wildly, with arms and legs flailing, whenever you pull their string. The calaveras sing, dance, laugh—they even ride on merry-go-rounds and drive rickety wooden trucks.
Dia de los Muertos is not a morbid occasion, but rather a festive time. Generally speaking, the holiday’s activities consist of families welcoming their dead back into their homes, and also visiting the graves of their departed loved ones. At the cemetery, family members clean up the gravesite, decorate it with flowers, and set out and enjoy a picnic while visiting with other family and community members who gather there. In both cases, celebrants believe that the souls of the dead, the ánimas, return and are all around them.
Here in Mérida the Ayuntamiento has spent a lot of time preparing the cemetaries for this celebration. Cleaning, painting, restoring statuary to its upright position. And unfortunately, I beleive they have removed the dogs as well. Always before on my walks through the Cementario General there were quite a few dogs present, this last week I saw nary a one.
The meals prepared for these picnics are sumptuous, usually featuring the foods the departed loved ones liked. A traditional dish here in the Yucatan is the chicken and pork dish, mucbilpollo. There is also a traditional special egg-batter bread, pan de muerto. Gravesites and family altars in the homes are decorated with flowers and adorned with religious amulets and with offerings of food, cigarettes, sodas, whatever the things were that were favored by their dead relatives; and toys for the children.
It was really special when a family would invite you to step in to their home to view their personal altars