Wilson Park Recreation Center

Natalia Narvaez paints the face of Emberlee David-Lopez during a Day of the Dead celebration Saturday at the Wilson Park Recreation Center in Temple.

Day of the Dead — or Dia de los Muertos — was celebrated Saturday at Wilson Park Recreation Center with folk dancing, tacos, sugar skull face painting and the display of a community altar.

Historians say the Aztec and Toltec people started the commemoration of life and death in ancient Mexico. The holiday later became associated with the Catholic observance of All Saints Day, Nov. 1, and All Souls Day, Nov. 2.

Miranda Lugo, recreation center coordinator, said cold weather slowed down the early crowd, but it had started to pick up. Last year’s celebration — their first — drew more than 600, she said.

Natalia Narvaez and four other volunteers did face painting at two tables. They were making the young faces look like sugar skulls. They also told the children what the day was all about, as some of them didn’t yet know, she said.

“We have a bigger room this year, because last year there was a long line,” she said.

Paul Velasquez of Temple waited with his son, Paul Brian Velasquez, 5, who will be 6 in December.

“He’s excited,” his father said. “He’s always excited.”

It was little Paul’s first time to have his face painted.

“Then we’re going to the music store and look at a guitar, because one of the presents he’s going to get is a guitar,” his dad said. “For Halloween we went to San Antonio for some trick or treating, so this is a good way to follow up. The best part of it is it’s in the daytime.”

Joan Caughlin, recreation staff member, assisted people in the community offering room, where the altar display was set up on a table. The display included drinks and food, salt and water, candles, flowers and small toys for children. An explanatory note said the most common food left is pan de muerte — bread of death — which is sweet bread decorated with bones and skulls made of dough. There was a large wall poster where people could write commemorative messages to their loved ones.

In another room, Christina Allan, a junior at Belton High School, helped children make sugar skull masks. She does a lot of volunteer work with the parks and recreation department, she said.

“I’ve always loved working with kids, ever since my brother and sister came into my life,” she said.

The Tierra Mestiza Ballet Folklorico danced in the recreation center gymnasium, where a lot of people watched from the bleachers. The audience applauded wildly after each dance. For several of the numbers, Anna Pineda, the director, joined the group, all dressed in white gowns decorated with sequined flower designs. The girls wore makeup and had their hair up.

“They like it but it’s a lot of work,” she said.

The dances featured a lot of foot-tapping, and she said the shoes are specially made for that effect. She invited anyone interested to attend their beginners class 6 p.m. Friday at Blackmon Community Center. She has 15 dancers, including one boy. She would like to have more boys, so they could dance as couples, she said.