Mexico is known for its special interaction with death. For Day of the Dead Mexico celebrates its deceased through many surprising traditions in its vast territory. The Mayan people have their own tradition, known as Janal Pixan, food for souls.

Day of the Dead is one of the most popular celebrations in Mexico, the traditional and cultural range of the Day of the Dead throughout the Mexican Republic is impressive. Before death we can appreciate the syncretism between the prehispanic beliefs linked to the cultural and religious disembarkation of the Catholic conquerors, giving way to a unique festivity in the world. As always in this blog we are going to focus on the Mayan tradition, the celebration they call Janal Pixán.

A grammatical question that clarifies the teacher José Natividad Ic Xec on his website How do you write Janal Pixán or Hanal Pixan?

Preparing the kid in Janal Pixán with the friends of Kíichpam K'áax


The souls of the dead are allowed to return to their homes where relatives receive them with offerings from 31 from October to 2 in November. According to the tradition:

  • the 31 October day the children are celebrated and it's called Angelitos Day (Uh Janal Palal in maya).
  • the 1 day of November to adults, is the so-called Day of the Dead (U Janal Nucuch Uinicoob)
  • y November's 2 is for all souls, known as All Saints' Day (U Janal Pixanoob). November's 2 day is also known as misa pixán, for being the day that the mass is celebrated, in many occasions in the same cemetery of the population.


Janal Pixán, banquet or meal of souls, is the Mayan tradition for Day of the Dead.

The ancient Maya did not have special dates, as it happens today, to receive and venerate their dead. As well as other pre-Hispanic cultures, the Mayas buried their dead in several ways: inside their houses, taking advantage of cavities such as caverns, caves and even cenotes as the archaeological evidence has shown us, and in extraordinary cases they built exclusive buildings to preserve the bodies of special people. The pre-Hispanic Maya paid tribute to their dead ancestors on a daily basis, without special dates, with offerings in designated spaces inside their homes.

Janal Pixán is not a public event, it is something intimate that occurs in families, in the gathering of the house.

Rezadora in front of an altar


I have been in the elaboration of several altars of Mexican friends and I assure you that the illusion and devotion for this tradition exceeds what I can convey to you. On Day of the Dead dates, relatives await the visit of their dead in their homes. These offerings to the dead are made in what we call altars, a Catholic footprint that is an inherent part of the millenary tradition. Mexicans put their altar in the house, place where they are offered to the dead who got ahead of them on the way and receive them.

The altars must be located in a special place. On the table that makes up the altar can not miss a decoration with candles (candles), flowers of type xpujuc as they are known in the Mayan area, which are wild flowers of orange and yellow colors, the new tablecloths (as well as we release or we put the best tablecloth for Christmas or any important celebration) and the photos of the deceased next to the food offerings: Breakfast, lunch and dinner. A glass of water and another of salt is representative of life and death on the altars.

In the Mayan area something traditional food It could be a chocolatito in a jicara bowl next to a pancito and a coffee for breakfast, and for lunch and dinner it is usually prepared the traditional pib (roast made underground, buried), a kind of very consistent tamales. This food is what the deceased takes and endures for many days on his long journey. There is also no lack of traditional drinks extracted from corn, such as atole, and the spirits that the deceased liked. For the 31 day, that of the children, they usually leave on the altar sweet papaya or coconut and some small toys.

In the markets of all towns for Janal Pixán we find all the necessary ornaments. It's very nice to go to the markets on these dates.


The altars are beautiful, some families spend many days making their altars. If you have a friend who invites you to share the elaboration of the altar, do not even think about it, you're in luck. With the years they have been doing contests of altars in the towns, where you can enjoy examples of different altars in town halls and squares. Wherever you are traveling those days, look at local events and participate in whatever you can. Mérida, Campeche, Valladolid and Izamal, among many other populations not as well known abroad as Felipe Carrillo Puerto, where they make different events those days.

If you need information you can contact me in comments to be able to recommend some good place to celebrate Janal Pixán 🙂

Cemetery of Pomuch, Campeche


As we have explained that the altar is something intimate that is placed in the houses to receive relatives, in the cemeteries there is also activity those days. Tradition makes families wait for their dead and approach cemeteries to dress the dead That means they will clean the graves of the dead, repaint them in those days, everything must be clean for the arrival of souls. It is easy to see family members in the cemeteries taking even food offerings to the graves, and drinking beer and singing their favorite music.


There are several cemeteries in the Peninsula where the relatives come to take care of the tombs in those dates. Among them I emphasize the cemeteries of two populations, where they picturesquely celebrate these dates: Pomuch and Hoctún.

On 2 days in November, Masses are usually celebrated in cemeteries

In the Yucatan Peninsula there is a traditionally shocking and surprising place to celebrate, is Pomuch, a small town of Campeche. Here they do not bury the dead in the conventional way, here the bones are kept in open boxes, and on these dates dress up your dead it represents cleaning the bones of the deceased one by one with a sincere and solemn love that moves. You can attend the cemetery for those dates in Pomuch, and inform yourself of the events that make through your Facebook.

Another of the cemeteries where you can go out to enjoy these days of colorful and tradition is Hoctún, a small Yucatecan population, where dress the dead is to paint the tombs of his old cemetery.

I really hope you have the opportunity to live the tradition in these lands, are unique dates to celebrate those we want to have left. To my beloved and beloved mother, as to my other little dead, I have been able to honor them with these traditions alien to my own culture that somehow are strangely closer to mine. Happy at heart and grateful for the time I spent with them. That we know how to value the time of life and enjoy our loved ones and our environment in a healthy way.

I leave the recipe for Pan de Muertos, these days can not miss

Remember that in the section of MAYAN CULTURE You can read more articles related to the local culture. The video that I leave below seems to me a beauty of narration so you can visualize and understand Janal Pixán much better than with my words. Take your time, it's worth it.

As we always wish you a good path,

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Sandra Salvadó Training photographer, traveler by vocation and certified tourism guide by the Government of Mexico. We promote natural wonders and contemporary Mayan culture. Great fan of pre-Hispanic history. Author of the blog and co-founder of The Shortest Path Travel, agency that guides you through alternative paths in Mayan lands. Social and sustainable tourism in the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas.
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