Mexicans love a party.
That is not a stereotype. That is a stone-cold fact, extrapolated from years of visiting the Yucatan in every season, and encountering some kind of festivity every time. I can only conclude that Mexico really does have a fiesta culture, like all the brochures say.
If you really want me to qualify this statement, we could agree to say that Mexicans love a party from October through December. Better?
The fall is a nexus of public holidays, religious rites and village parties. You start complaining about Christmas creeping up to early November, but in Mexico, the holiday season cracks open in mid-September, with Independence Day. This year was an insane blowout, because it was the bicentennial of the year the independence movement started.
I missed that exact two-day party, but considering how many public buildings were lit up with special bicentennial-fund LEDs, it was like the fireworks were still going.
I also arrived just in time for the next big event on the Yucatecan party calendar, Hanal Pixan. You probably know it better as Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), at the end of October and the beginning of November. All that skull-chic you associate with Mexican folk art–that’s Day of the Dead stuff, and, more important, it’s central Mexican stuff. In the Yucatan, the aesthetic is a little different. Hanal Pixan doesn’t dwell so specifically on the skull imagery. The name means “feeding the souls” in Maya, and the emphasis is on the altars for the deceased, where you place traditional foods and candles and flowers. Usually, they’re private–in houses or offices, but not a huge public show. Or it didn’t seem that way to me the last time I was in the area for the holiday, a few years back.
This time, though, I think I was in the right place at the right time. In Valladolid, schoolkids got out early to enter an altar-building competition in the lawn area in front of the big convent. The altars were dedicated to family, or politicians or public figures. Imagine a history or science fair, but rendered in palm fronds and marigolds.
I know it makes me sound like an 80-year-old to say it, but it was just so nice to see all those young people working together!
We unfortunately had to leave Valladolid before those altars were done…and then we got to Merida just as the ones there were being taken down. But that evening, we saw a big Hanal Pixan parade–and this is where the skull-fest began.
Again, it was mostly schoolkids. And this event did not exist several years ago. It’s something the city of Merida organized recently, I think in part to be more of a tourist draw. But it’s not like people were going through the motions–everyone seemed to be having fun. And part of the fun was the skull-face-painting–it was as much a costume as anything, and yet one more excuse for a party.