For nearly a century, the wafting smell of lutefisk (Norwegian fish) has signified the arrival of the much-anticipated annual Christmas dinner enjoyed by Waldorf guests, faculty, staff and students alike. In the early years, the feast consisting of fish, Swedish meatballs, boiled potatoes, lefse, peas, kringla and more was held in Waldorf’s original dining room located in the basement of Salveson Hall. In the 6os, the dinner moved to the Gejllefald Dining Hall and in the early 2000s it moved to the Atrium. No matter where it moved to, the smell was always sure to follow.
If you have ever smelled or “experienced” lutefisk, you understand. It has a rather pungent odor. To say it is an acquired taste is an understatement. Only a select few develop a fondness for the jelly-like fish, so throughout the decades students have plugged their noses, held their breath, and made numerous jokes at its expense. There have even been lyrics written about it to the tune of “O Tannebaum” – Oh lutefisk, oh lutefisk, your smell is …. (use your imagination).
However, the unique aroma of the tasteless, bland food never seems to dampen the spirit of the event or the holiday. On the contrary, it appears to heighten the excitement for the Christmas festivities that lie ahead. It is tradition.
Although lutefisk gets a bad rap from many folks, someday the smell of it may just trigger a beloved Christmas memory in the heart and mind of an alum, student or friend; and for that, perhaps it deserves a little respect.