Monday, January 22 , 2018, 6:59 am | Fair 43º


Local News

Danish Days Celebrating 81st Year in Solvang

Town hosting a weekend-long festival with Danish food, dancing, live music and entertainment

Dancers take over the streets during a recent Solvang Danish Days celebration. Click to view larger
Dancers take over the streets during a recent Solvang Danish Days celebration.  (Noozhawk file photo)

Solvang Danish Days — with a theme of “Solvang, How Sweet It Is!” — will celebrate its 81st anniversary this year with a three-day-weekend of entertainment on Friday through Sunday.

The event promises a “total Danish immersion experience” as it celebrates the 1911 establishment of Solvang by Danish-American settlers.

This year the festival is offering, as an on-line purchase only, a “Dane For A Day” VIP ticket bundle, for guests who want to “live like Vikings” throughout the weekend, organizers said.

In addition to the VIP ticket package, those looking to gain quicker entrance to either Saturday or Sunday’s aebleskiver breakfasts may now purchase tickets for either day’s breakfast on line, in advance. All advance, on-line tickets are now available online here

Since the celebration’s modest beginnings in 1936, when the festival debuted to commemorate the village’s 25th anniversary, organizers have continued to celebrate Solvang’s Danish heritage with authentic food, music, dancing, parades, live entertainment and family activities.

In 1946, a reporter from the influential Saturday Evening Post magazine visited Solvang during Danish Days and the resulting article, which appeared in January 1947, put Solvang on the proverbial map.

The article stated, in part, “Solvang … a spotless Danish village that blooms like a rose in California’s charming Santa Ynez Valley. Old country charm and customs have been successfully fused with the American way of life. Nowadays … the quaint village is busy living up to its affectionate name, ‘Little Denmark.’”

This year’s numerous offerings, encompassing activities for all ages, including fan-favorite food events surrounding aebleskiver, the iconic Danish pastry balls; a Danish-style beer and wine garden serving the Danish import Carlsberg beer, alongside local brews and wines; a historical re-enactment in a Viking encampment; interactive history lessons at the Elverhoj Museum of History & Art; chainsaw wood-carving demonstrations; an Old World artisanal crafts marketplace; and a contemporary Solvang merchant walk.

Overall admission to Solvang Danish Days is free, and entertainment options abound during the weekend with three parades, Danish folk dancers and musicians performing in spots scattered about the town, plus an afternoon and evening of free, live concerts on the Midgaard Pavilion Stage in the middle of downtown Solvang, adjacent to the Viking Beer and Wine Garden.

Solvang Danish Days also aims to please the next generation of Danish Days fans with multiple pass-times, including story-telling sessions with Randel McGee as Hans Christian Andersen, and a “Kid’s Korner” in Solvang Park featuring LEGO blocks.

Since the 1960s, Solvang Danish Days has been presided over by each year’s Danish Maid – a tradition that remains an honorable accomplishment for each of the young, local women appointed by the Danish Days Foundation Board members, to become a specific year’s Danish Maid.

The 2017 Danish Maid is 18-year-old Gabrielle Heron, a fifth-generation Santa Ynez Valley resident whose Solvang roots stretch back to the town’s founding years.

“It’s an honor to serve as the 2017 Danish Maid – especially since this past year, the world embraced and practiced the Danish custom of ‘hygge,’ which celebrates simplicity and cherishes little moments in family, comfort, and food. I am excited to represent our Danish town as a Danish lifestyle custom receives worldwide recognition, and Solvang once again takes time to remember and celebrate the Danish heritage and traditions on which it was founded,” Gabrielle said.

Solvang’s Danish Maids serve as goodwill ambassadors during their year of service, making public appearances to promote Solvang its spirit of hospitality.

Danish Days has a long-standing family history for Gabrielle: In 1961, her grandmother, Ann Nielsen, was the first to hold court as “hostess” for Danish Days, a precursor to the Danish Maid role.

Gabrielle’s older sister, Angelique Heron, was named 2014 Danish Maid, and her cousin, Natalya Nielsen, served as the 2016 Danish Maid.

Gabrielle’s great uncle, Don Nielsen, was chairman of the Danish Days board in 1953 and her grandfather, Roger, was chairman in 1971. Also in 1971, Gabrielle’s great-grandparents, Axel and Margaret Nielsen, were the Danish Days Parade grand marshals, and in 2010, her grandparents, Roger and Ann Nielsen, were the grand marshals.

Her uncle, Rodney Nielsen, has volunteered for Danish Days for more than 30 years. He has served on the Danish Days Foundation Board for the last 12 years and served as co-chair of the board in 2013.

One of Danish Days’ continuing traditions is the weekend’s pair of aebleskiver breakfasts, served right in the middle of town – a tradition that began with Axel Nielsen, who was in charge of the breakfasts for many years until Roger Nielsen took the helm. Rodney Nielsen is now the breakfast chairman.

[Click here for more stories from the Santa Ynez Valley Star.]

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