By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
For the first time in the southeastern Mexican state’s history, the government of Yucatán will host a three-city celebration of the Festival de las Ánimas (Festival of Spirits, a slightly less macabre take on Mexico’s renowned Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead) from Wednesday, Oct. 24, through Friday, Nov. 2.
For the last three years, the Yucatán Tourism Secretariat has organized a Festival de las Ánimas in the state capital of Mérida, but his year, it has extended the festival’s activities to also include the cities of Progreso and Valladolid.
The festival is rooted in an ancient Maya tradition known as “Hanal Pixán,” which basically translates to “the feeding of departed spirits.”
Traditionally, the celebration lasts three days, during which time families set up in-house altars to the dead and decorate the graves of their deceased relatives.
The highlight of the Festival de las Ánimas will begin on Sunday, Oct. 28, with a preamble parade of community members dressed up as ghostly figures with whitened faces and blackened eyes.
The caravan of pretend walking dead departs from Mérida’s historic General Cemetery and makes its way to the city center, thus paving the way for the deceased to find their way back to the Land of the Living.
The spirits of deceased children are expected to visit their families on Oct. 31, when they will be welcomed with toys and sweets, while those of dead adults are expected to drop by on Nov. 1.
The adult souls are usually received with favorite dishes and alcoholic beverages.
On the third and final night, Nov. 2, the people of the Yucatan usually hold special masses in memory of the deceased.
The dishes prepared during the Yucatán Hanal Pixán celebration have a special spiritual significance and include mucbipollo, oversized tamales stuffed with chopped chicken and pork and baked underground in earthen ovens.
In addition to the reenactment of the traditional Hanal Pixán ceremonies, the Yucatán Festival de las Ánimas will also include musical performances, gastronomic tastings, storytelling events, conferences, dances, theatrical presentations and guided tours.
The festival in Mérida will run from Oct. 24 through Oct. 31, in Progreso, from Oct. 26 through Nov. 2, and in Valladolid from Oct. 27, through Oct. 31.