We have come to that time of year when hearts are lighter. The sounds of carols are in the air. Do I hear bells ringing? The deep belly laugh of a grand old soul with a twinkle in his eye? Brightly colored lights are reflected in children’s eyes as they look up in wonder. All of our senses are heightened. The smell of a fresh cut pine in our living room brings life into the whole house. Do any of these bring back happy memories for you?
We experience taste and smell from the same part of the brain. This close relationship is most apparent when we have a head cold and food tastes different when smell is impaired. Actually, what is really being affected is the flavor from the combination of taste and smell. Interactions between the senses of taste and smell enhance our perceptions of the different flavors in foods such as sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami or savory.
At the same time, smells can bring on a flood of memories and emotions. Because the olfactory bulb (where we sense taste and smell) is part of the brain's limbic system, an area closely associated with memory and feeling, it's sometimes called the emotional brain. As a child, when you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, or a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and the memory – like the smell of roasted turkey and the joy of the holidays.
When we look for wonder during this time of year, be it in the lights, the music or the different smells, we often find it. And finding wonder in our world is a powerful force that can bind us together and awaken inner joy. The holiday season itself becomes a gift for us to enjoy and delight in. Let the child come out and sense the wonder. Think back on those early Christmas memories when cherry blossoms danced and Santa was soon to come. What will I find under the tree this year? During this holiday season, let us remember our hopes and dreams. We can often find those in our children’s and grandchildren’s faces.
This year I won’t abandon my healthy lifestyle during the holidays. Yet I’ll temper it with the opportunity to create joyful memories. Little granddaughter Amelia will experience her first Christmas this year! What will her senses tell her? The delicate sweet of fruit is clean and fresh. The rich flavor and aroma of home baked bread is satisfying and creates a memory of warmth and security. Fresh baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies dipped in milk is the perfect moment after nap. This year, daughter Clare and I will relive this shared milk and cookie memory and perhaps transfer it to Amelia. What other opportunities are there to create warm family moments during this special time? How can our food traditions support this effort? Keep nutrient dense veggies and fruits on the menu and savor the experience of hot spiced cider, sweet potato pie, and roasted turkey.
If Christmas is a difficult time for you, a way to return to the season’s spirit is to focus on doing a charitable act. Local food charities do a wealth of good during this time of year and you can build some Christmas spirit by focusing on helping others in need. Take that small step to bring joy into your holiday and experience the holiday with all of your senses.
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with many years’ experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations is produced by St. Luke’s Health and the City of Lufkin. It currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable TV channels and online at https://www.chistlukeshealthmemorial.org.