Halloween in Merida aka Hanal Pixan

The neurotic foreigner writing this always delights in the confusion surrounding what, in fact, Yucatecans are ‘supposed’ to celebrate at the end of the month of October. The great majority of gringos and slightly misplaced Canadians continue to have some sort of instinctive Pavlovian reaction to the idea of what to do on October 31st, while at the same time being appreciative and respectful of local traditions, which in the case of Mexico and Yucatan in particular, means the Day of the Dead.

Locally, it is called Hanal Pix’an, or Feast of the Souls and the celebration consists of making special foods, mainly the xec, a mixed salad of chopped jicama, citrus fruit, cilantro and chile and the wonderful mucbipollo aka pib, a large tamal preferably baked under ground, where the smoky heat imbues this classic fall dish with a distinctive flavor.

But you could learn more about these traditions from all kinds of websites and pages out here in internet-land. Do a search on Hanal Pixan and you are there. It is not the intention of the neurotic foreigner to pretend to give readers a class on local customs.

One web page you will not learn anything from is: http://thematrix.sureste.com/cityview/merida2/articulos/hanal.htm where the translation has been done so literally and stiltingly as to make it completely and utterly incomprehensible. Done up by some extremely low-payed employee of the local Enlaces y Comunicaciones (or just typed into some online translation web page), it is really quite hilariously embarassing. Some personal highlights, lifted directly from the page above, include:
  • The “Hanal pixán “, or eaten of the bores, is a tradition of the Mayan town that takes to the end to remember of a special way the friends and relatives who went ahead in the eternal trip.

Now the dearly departed may be dead, but surely not all of them were bores so as to warrant calling the whole event Eaten of the Bores! In fact, it sounds more like a horror flick by Wes Craven, where poor folks in small villages were consumed and digested by out of work movie critics whose critiques were so boring they were relegated to eating villagers…

  • salt but: tortilla to which meat is put to him underneath ollejo and soon is fried to eat. The name is formed by Salt: light, and But: to insert, that is to say, slightly inserted.

I have lived in Merida for close to 20 years, and have never seen this local dish called by this name. I thought it was a salbut. Maybe there is new saltier version out there. And to have meat put underneath your ollejo sounds positively pornographic, even without that last phrase ‘slightly inserted’. In fact the definition doesn’t make any sense: If Salt in Mayan means Light and But to Insert Slightly what you have is a flashlight up your butt. Really, now.

Definitely have a look at the page! It’s a riot.

Oh, and before you get your knickers in a twist and start composing your email to me saying that I am such a culturally insensitive boor and how dare I criticize this poor third world attempt at explaining what is obviously a charming pagan ceremony, let me clarify three things: a) I LOVE the Hanal Pixan and have made altars myself and am an avid consumer of copious quantities of mucbipollos (with or without espelon, limpios or with bones) thereby stimulating the local underground economy; b) the page is maintained by probably the largest and most important media company in the Yucatan with newspapers and more and enough of a budget to warrant a proper translation and c) I have personally offered at one point to translate for these folks, especially in the embarassing tourism translations department, and had no takers.

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