Those celebrations when souls return from the world of the dead to greet their loved ones here on Earth are approaching for all Mexicans.
Pre-Hispanic cultures throughout our country had a huge respect for death and had different celebrations for life after death. The Maya culture is not the exception as they have a big role in this enigmatic Mexican tradition.
For the ancient inhabitants of the Yucatan peninsula and its surroundings, the 'Day of the Dead' has a significant cultural value. Unlike other places where these types of traditions are popular. The Mayas distinguished themselves by having their own traditions when it comes to death celebrations.
There is no such thing as 'Day of the Dead' for the Mayas, instead they have the 'Hanal Pixán'. Which translates as "food of the souls" or "food for the soul". In essence, the tradition might sound similar as that celebrated in the rest of the country, but with some variations.
First, it’s important to note that the Maya view of the world is very different from ours. In this sense, they saw time as cyclical and the Earth as a rectangular plane on which there were 13 heavens that looked like branches of trees and 9 worlds underneath looking like the roots of those trees.
Life was thus seen to be in the middle of this and it was the Pixan that rotated through time.
The Pixán, or "The Soul of Man," was considered a gift from the gods. The Pixán would be seen as the period of time we have on earth before traveling through snake-shaped paths to the underworld.
Knowing this, it is much easier to understand the symbolism behind the Maya offerings.
The Mayas set up altars for their deceased. However, instead of making them stepped, like in the rest of the country, they placed rectangular tables representing the Earth. The tables were held by 4 supports representing the 4 gods of the 4 corners of the world.
As the Maya tradition started mixing up with the Catholic religion, the 13 heavens and 9 underworlds simply became heaven and hell. And the stepped altars became more popular. However, certain elements that are unique to their culture have remained.
During the Hanal Pixán offerings, a green cross is placed to represent the sacred ceiba tree; Gourds of Atole, representing the 4 cardinal points, and 22 offerings of food to the gods of both the 13 heavens and 9 underworlds.
It is believed that the souls of the deceased return for 8 days to be with their families. For this reason, the locals set themselves to the task of preparing everything for the return of their loved ones. They clean the house and do not forget to place typical food on the altar, including, of course, the Mucbipollo among other Maya delicacies.
The Hanal Pixán celebration takes place over a period of 3 days; the children are celebrated on October 31st, the adults on November 1st, and all the saints on November 2nd.