Opinion Shorts

Treasured holiday tastes and aromas

Bethel community members share their favorite family food traditions.

By Caleb Smith

As the seasons continue to change and the snow starts to accumulate, for many Americans the holiday aromas begin to shift from pumpkin pie and roasted turkey to evergreen trees and candles. Certain scents and spices can immediately teleport people back to their childhood, summoning memories of traditions and specialty homemade foods. For those who are blessed to be surrounded by a loving family, the holiday season is filled with get-togethers, time-honored recipes and retelling of stories from earlier generations, all while making new memories. 

I asked members of the Bethel community to share how their five senses bring family traditions over the holidays to life. Along the way, I gleaned some terrifically unique holiday ideas and heard about a few laughable mishaps, too.

When Abby Schroeder, social work and Spanish double major, smells even a hint of cardamom, it immediately triggers wonderful memories of being 6 years old making Finnish pulla bread loaves with her grandma. Each year, another layer of memories helps reinforce the positive connection between baking smells, the tastes of pulla bread, the happy background sounds of loud relatives and the contagious laughter of children trying to find the hidden pickle in the Christmas tree, a German tradition. 

This year, marking the recent passing of her grandma, it is now especially important to Schroeder and her mom to continue sharing the joy of baking together and then give the loaves of the cardamom pulla bread to friends and neighbors.  

Abby Schroeder learns to bake bread with her grandma when she was younger. | Photo submitted by Abby Schroeder.

Shawna Orwall, human services and organizational leadership graduate student, shared that the holidays only feel complete with the smell of her dad’s oyster stew simmering on Christmas Eve. 

“I don’t really like oyster stew but I love the buttery, peppery smell and knowing if I go in the kitchen, my father will be watching over it,” Orwall said.   

 Shawna Orwoll’s “famous ham loaf” with horseradish sour cream. | Photo submitted by Shawna Orwoll.

She absolutely loves the savory tastes of her grandma’s ham loaf with horseradish sour cream that she now prepares for nostalgia as much as for taste.

Deb Petersen, clinical coordinator in the Social Work Department, admitted a secret hope that  the oyster dressing tradition would disappear at their house. She is looking forward to the smell of the turkey cooking, the creamy buttery bites of Spinach Madeline, followed by a slice of pumpkin pie. However, what she relishes most is their family’s Christmas Day hike. 

Deb Petersen’s annual family Christmas-day hike. | Photo submitted by Deb Petersen.

“There was that one Christmas we didn’t go because our grandchildren were small,” Petersen said. “However, to fulfill the spirit of their tradition, our family walked outside into the negative 7 degrees, took a picture and ran back to the warm car.”

Academic Affairs Coordinator Jodie Bunish loves Christmas cookies and pies. She laughed recounting some family recipe mistakes over the years, like the apple pie that somehow missed the sugar. She also left me with the reminder of the most important thing to remember. 

Fun in the kitchen making Christmas treats. | Photo submitted by Jodie Bunish.

“Whatever your traditions, let’s find ways to keep Christ in our hearts at all times, but especially at Christmas,” Bunish said. 

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