‘El Dia De Los Muertos’

Adrian Villa brought some favorite family dishes to the special celebration at Corpus Christi Parish Center Sunday afternoon. The food was lined up on a table next to pictures of his late relatives, along with brightly colored Mexican blankets, skulls and flowers.

“It’s the foods they liked when they were alive,” Villa said, going down the line. “My parents like the tamales. My sister – enchiladas. My wife’s parents. The father of my sister-in-law. This is ‘adobo,’ pork with a red chile sauce.”

Cooking their favorite foods is one traditional way to remember your loved ones during El Dia De Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, Villa said.

The day is a Mexican celebration observed in connection with the Catholic celebration of All Saints Day each year in early November. Gunderson Funeral Home and Cremation Services, of Fort Dodge, and the Holy Trinity Catholic Parishes of Webster County have teamed up for years to bring this celebration to Fort Dodge.

“I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve done this. It was probably 10 years or more,” said Phil Gunderson, owner and director of Gunderson Funeral Home and Cremation Services.

“We started this years ago because it’s a large celebration in Mexico. It’s not a sad event. It’s to remember loved ones who have died,” he said.

“It’s been a good celebration every year. You see the pictures and things they brought. … It’s really a nice way to celebrate something that’s such a part of their culture.”

“It’s a good tradition. It’s something we should do,” said the Rev. Dan Rupp, who led the noon Mass. His homily, delivered in Spanish, focused on All Saints’ Day, and making the saints our role models.

Gunderson estimated around 175 people in attendance – a good turnout, he said.

During the service, attendees were invited to call out the names of the loved ones they had lost.

The focus of the event was the long table, where Villa and others created their tributes; and the potluck meal featuring some of the favorite foods for the living to enjoy.

Maria Velasquez didn’t bring decorations to the church this year.

“Not this time, because I was cooking,” she said. “But I have my picture at home with a glass of water and flowers, and candle. I have it at home.”

It’s a happy time, said Villa’s son, Adrian Villa Jr.

“It’s reaching out and celebrating their life, as they would have liked us to keep on living and being happy,” Villa Jr. said. “They’re not there anymore, but they’re still there in spirit. Their families don’t forget them.”

“We Mexican people make a lot of jokes about the dead,” said Villa Sr. “When we have a funeral, people stay for two or three days.”

In Mexico, families often go out to the cemetery and share a meal next to a loved one’s grave, he said. They take flowers, clean off the headstone, maybe cut the grass or the weeds to make it look more presentable.

Villa Sr. said he moved from Mexico to Texas in 1997, and then to Fort Dodge in 1999, to give his family a good place to live.

Villa Jr. said one thing from the celebration in Mexico he hasn’t seen here is the sweetbread, which is usually cooked in the shape of a skull.

“It’s just a regular bread, but it’s in remembrance to those who have passed away,” he said.

Back in Mexico the day is celebrated a little differently, but Villa Jr. said he likes what they do here.

“It’s basically bringing the community together,” he said, “and celebrating together.”