¬Ņ¬Ņ Spooky holiday, or Precious Observance ??

Photo by Toby Ord, Wikimedai Commons


My photo, 2012, Santiago Plaza, Merida


History, especially religious history, morphs over time.  The results can be dark, confusing.  I recently wrote to our Mayan gardener, Victor, who has a college degree and a teaching certificate, asking about his understanding of the local holiday, Hanal Pixan:

YUCATECO MAYA :  HANAL PIXAN  (meal of souls)

SPANISH :¬† D√ćA DE LOS MUERTOS¬† (day of the dead)


My query to Don Victor :

I‚Äôm wondering about the name of this holiday, as I have doubts (or discomfort) about the English rendering: ‚Äúday of the dead‚ÄĚ.¬† I would prefer to call it day of the ancestors, or day of remembrance (memorial day is too vague, [and /or already dedicated to fallen warriors].¬† Any thoughts?

He wrote back in Spanish, so I will summarize his points:

En la cultura maya se celebra el “Hanal Pixan”, que literalmente significa comida de las almas. Tiene un sentido estrictamente espiritual, recordando a los fallecidos, de quienes se cree que a√ļn est√°n presentes entre nosotros de manera espiritual, y por eso se hace un altar para compartir con ellos: flores, alimentos y bebidas que fueron sus favoritos, para que tomen el esp√≠ritu o esencia de lo ofrecido.

“El D√≠a de Muertos” es de la cultura celta, y se sincroniz√≥ con otras culturas que poco a poco perdieron su originalidad, tambi√©n influenciadas por la Iglesia Cat√≥lica. El del camino de las almas y la pintura del rostro como se hace ahora en M√©rida es un teatro sencillo para atraer m√°s turismo, est√° lejos de la tradici√≥n maya de los antepasados.

In their culture, it is a spiritual holiday celebrating and sharing a meal of remembrance with departed souls, mainly family ancestors.  (It seems to me, from my reading of his words, to be less about the saints of the church, which may have been more prominent in earlier Euro versions.) Surviving family members today believe the offerings and the altar invite the essential visitation of the departed, and the meal of souls is thus shared solemnly, and apparently with gratitude.

He continues, that it seems the original sense of the holiday has been largely lost in the Euro (Celtic/Catholic) version, with the current influence becoming largely to invite tourism. [I’ve heard that Mexico City didn’t even celebrate this holiday until recent times, when the attraction of tourists was noticed, as a potential.]

My sense is that it originally was never about goblins, monsters, death, or the occult.  I see it rather as about thanksgiving, and appreciation of those who have enabled our survival.  So, if you want to scare yourself, just say


¬° BU !


or better yet, say


Language Lesson:

Fantasma > Ghost // Hallowe’en
Hallowe‚Äôen ‚Äúhallowed [sagrado] evening” = se llama la noche antes del D√≠a de Todos los Santos / All Saints Day
Hanal Pix√°n (en Yucat√°n): ‚Äúcomida con las almas/ o las animas, de los antepasados‚ÄĚ // ‚Äúmeal with the ancestors‚ÄĚ day of the dead (ej: high plains of Mexico/en altiplano)

Apparition > aparici√≥n ‚Äúimagen, sin cuerpo‚ÄĚ (yo soy, pero no estoy mi coche, ni mis zapatos, ni aunque mi cuerpo; soy mi alma.)
Nube > cloud
Niebla > fog
Neblinoso > foggy, cloudy, misty, hazy

Ghost > geist/geest (German/Dutch) : mind-spirit / fantasma
Holy Ghost > Espíritu Santo (ej: como Juan 14:26, el Consolador / the Comforter)

Soul > alma/espíritu/anima
Visitation > visitaci√≥n (ej: como Mar√≠a, Lucas 1:28): Y entrando el √°ngel en donde ella estaba, dijo: ¬°Salve, muy favorecida! El Se√Īor es contigo; bendita t√ļ entre las mujeres.

Wind/breath/spirit // pneuma/ruach (English // Greek/Hebrew)
Bible translators need to examine the context of wind, breath, spirit (viento, respiración, anima) as in both Hebrew and Greek, the words could all mean the same, yet are different concepts.







A real taco, from scratch

A real taco, from scratch:  taste the love!

Yes, they may share a calendar date, but no,¬†Day of the Dead is not the rough equivalent of¬†Hallowee’n, but rather, of Yankee¬†Thanksgiving¬†‚Äď it’s all about family and food. Halloween, the second most commercial holiday up north, is macabre, dark, excessively indulgent. Day of the Dead recognizes that survival has been based upon sacrifices made by ancestors, which is to say that it is centered on gratitude, giving of thanks. ¬ŅWhat better way to express thanks than to infuse food with love for sharing with those so dear to us?

We had a close-up look at this celebration in a pueblo southeast of Merida on Saturday. Our housekeeper, Mundy, invited us to her parent’s home to partake of this harvest remembrance. It doesn’t get any more grounded and real than this. Her father, Desiderio, is a milpero, a real hardscrabble farmer, who grows corn, beans, squash, sweet potato, melons, and such, for the family. They raise their own meat and poultry. And they also have a little manufacturing business, making clothing and thus ¬†providing employment for their neighbors.¬†It was a great honor to be invited to this feast. And it was so delicious, being entirely prepared from scratch in their outdoor kitchen.¬†(So basic: food, clothing, shelter, family, love.)


Tia Juanita cooking relleno negro, a turkey blackbean stew

Tia Juanita cooking relleno negro, a turkey blackbean stew

Like many such feasts, this one takes much advance preparation. But many hands make light work. The menu includes handmade tortillas, from their own corn; black beans blended with hardboiled eggs from the chicken pen; turkey; chicken; vegetable topping, called cortado¬†(chop, in English); and Coke (along with a chocolate cake brought by us ‚Äď the only items not made from scratch).


Mary takes a taco lesson

Her first lesson in tortilla making, from a maestra

The altar, and prayers of thanksgiving inviting the ancestors to come and dine.

The altar, and prayers of thanksgiving inviting the ancestors to come and dine. (Socorro, Mundy’s mom, at left.)

Food for the departed

Food for the departed

Desiderio stirs the drying corn, while Mundy's children watch

Desiderio stirs the drying corn, while Mundy’s children watch

The Maya teach their children they are made of corn (elote).

The Maya teach their children they are made of corn (elote).

Juanita makes pibes, a corn and meat pie, for baking underground.

Juanita makes pibes, a corn and meat pie, for baking underground.

This is a long-running feast, which lasts for several days. The next event will be baking the meat pies for tomorrow’s event. (These folks know how to celebrate!)


Mundy's sister, Aurelia, grooms her daughter's hair.

Mundy’s sister, Aurelia, grooms her daughter’s hair.

Mundy cleans up.

Mundy cleans up.

After a short walk, we were taken by bici-taxi into the village to see a local cenote.

After a short walk, we were taken by bici-taxi into the village to see a local cenote.

And now we are well-schooled on being grateful for our ancestors!

It reminds me a bit of a rock tune, which almost sounds like a hymn today.