understanding "halloween" in mexico

hanal pixán, dia de los muertos. understanding “halloween” in mexico

Halloween in Mexico is not the same as what you’re likely used to when it comes to Halloween in Canada or the U.S. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as Halloween here in Mexico.

Over the years, some Mexicans have adapted to the dressing up and asking for candy idea on the night of October 31, but it’s only for the free candy. The concept of Halloween, as the rest of North American knows it, is irrelevant to them. Mexicans who do participate, of which there are not a lot, are the ones who tend to live around foreigners who celebrate it.

That said, traditional “halloween” in Mexico is an October 31 to November 2 celebration know as Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. In my region here in Riviera Maya, it is correctly known as Hanal Pixán, the Mayan translation for “food of souls”.

In Mayan tradition, the night of October 31 is dedicated to all the children who left the world early. This day is called U Hanal Palal. November 1 is dedicated to all deceased adults called U Hanal Nucuch Uinicoob. And on November 2, there is a mass dedicated to all souls called U Hanal Pixanoob, which is usually done in cemeteries with the singing of songs lead by a religious authority such as a priest.

The tradition behind the celebration of the deceased stems from the Mayan culture. Families who are unable to visit the actual burial site of their deceased will instead, create an alter of Hanal Pixán. On the alter are photos of the their deceased loved ones with marigold flowers, foods and toys for the deceased children. It is believed that these things help comfort them in their afterlife. It is also a way to remember them.

Mixed in with this October 31 to November 2 celebration is now La Catrina, properly termed La Calavera Catrina (elegant skull), and are face paintings you’ve likely seen. Over the last decade or so, her presence during this time of the year has become more common.

Many locals paint their face white with black markings resembling that of a skeleton. But traditionally, this has nothing to do with Dia de los Muertos or Hanal Pixán.

Painting of the face to mock La Catrina

Catrina was created in 1910 by Mexican illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada who would create cartoonish lithographs to satirically illustrate political and societal issues. His figures were always represented using skulls for faces.

La Catrina is believed to have once been a real person. During her living life, she preferred the society and clothing of non-Mexican culture. Catrina was always seen wearing elaborate high-society European gowns with matching hats, while her fellow Mexicans dressed in shabby clothing due to poverty.

The name given to her (catrina) is slang for a woman who renounces her Mexican culture and adopts European society with the ‘catrin’ or ‘catrina’ used to refer to a well-dressed man or woman. This is why you will also see catrin men. Due to her skeletal face, she has become a part of the celebration this time of the year. Those who paint their face and dress as La Catrina, are doing so to mock her.

The Hanal Pixán has the same purpose as the Day of the Dead with the main difference being that Hanal Pixán derives from the Mayan tradition, while the Day of the Dead is a combination of various customs of the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica, which now, includes dressing as La Catrina.