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Utah Oktoberfest promotes cultural understanding for Westminster students

Dressed in lederhosen, a traditional piece of German clothing, festival-goers hold up half-empty steins for Oktoberfest at Snowbird Sept. 26. Oktoberfest offers over 50 varieties of beer, from traditional german-style beers to local Utah breweries, according to the Snowbird website. Photo courtesy of Chaning Gibbs.

After a year-long hiatus, Westminster College students gathered at Snowbird to celebrate friends, food and culture at the 49th annual Oktoberfest. Utah’s Oktoberfest — a festival rooted in German culture — runs from Aug. 14 to Oct. 16 and hosts a number of activities, including mustache and beard competitions, as well as traditional German food, music and dancing, according to the Snowbird website.

Ryan Rottinghaus, a junior nursing student, said he enjoyed the cultural aspects of Oktoberfest. Rottinghaus said it was his first time visiting the event.

“I think it’s always good to go experience something new,” Rottinghaus said. “[Experiencing different cultures] just really opens your eyes to how other people live life and [shows] you the beauty in the small differences that we all have.”

Oktoberfest started in 1972, when the German community in Utah wanted to come together to celebrate their heritage, according to Sarah Sherman, Snowbird communications manager.

“The first year it was a really small event — kind of homegrown — and it became so popular that we were like ‘Okay, let’s keep doing this,’” Sherman said. “From then it’s evolved and really expanded every year.”

Oktoberfest has evolved to become a huge Utah tradition with local bands, musicians and people that have participated in the event for well over 20 years, according to Sherman. 

“Looking through some of the historical photos of the earlier Oktoberfests, you can see people in those photos, and then you can go to Oktoberfest and see those same people still dressing up, still coming up,” Sherman said.

An estimated 303,144 Utah residents claimed German ancestry in 2019, roughly 11% of the total population, according to data from the American Community Survey, a program conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau that collects demographic information.

Sherman said one of her favorite things about Oktoberfest is seeing guests in lederhosen and dirndls, traditional German clothing, as well as other costumes.\

Yeshi Doma, owner and designer for Himalayan Artswear, watches customers in her tent at Oktoberfest in Snowbird Sept. 26. Oktoberfest hosts a space for over 30 local and regional vendors to showcase their products, according to Sarah Sherman, Snowbird communications manager. Photo courtesy of Channing Gibbs.

Adia Estes, a junior intersectional health and justice major, said she was initially taken aback by some of the clothing choices at Oktoberfest.

“Getting to see the people who go all out for it […] that was interesting,” Estes said. “I was a little surprised, I was like ‘Oh, that’s the mood? Okay,’ but it was cool. I’m sure that in some way it was a connection to their heritage, or just something fun to do.”

One way Estes said people could become better informed about cultural events is to look into the history of the event and reach out to people who may know more about it.

“If you know somebody who’s a part of a culture that has a cultural festival in Utah, talk to them, ask them, find out what it means to them,” Estes said.

Among the traditional clothing, food and culture of Oktoberfest, Estes said she enjoyed the event and wants to come back. Estes said she liked being able to spend time with people away from Westminster campus.

“As midterm happens, it’s a fun way to get out on a weekend and do stuff off-campus,” Estes said. “Obviously, friendships can form from just being on campus and just being chill, but going out and doing something with people is a really great way to get closer [to others.]”  

Rottinghaus said he shared similar feelings.

“I think just college students in general like the live music, the atmosphere, the really good food and beer,” Rottinghaus said. “It’s just one of those things where everyone can get together and have a good time outside, experience something a little different.”

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