Three Danish Maids to preside over annual Solvang festival Sept. 16-18
For the first time in the celebration’s 85 years, three Danish Maids will preside over this year’s Solvang Danish Days, which returns after a two-year pause with a three-day event weekend, Sept. 16 through 18. Isabella Lopez has been named as 2020 Danish Maid, with Kayla Bandel named as 2021 Danish Maid. Applications for the 2022 role are currently being accepted with a submission deadline of May 18.
“In an unprecedented move, due mainly to the festival’s two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, the Solvang Danish Days Foundation decided that it was only fair to give the first two, very deserving young ladies their chance at Danish Maid, even though the festival could not take place in 2020 and 2021,” said Brenda Anderson, board member of the Solvang Danish Days Foundation and Solvang Danish Days 2022 co-chair.
Since its modest beginnings in 1936, when a one-day celebration commemorating the 25th anniversary of Solvang’s 1911 founding was conceived, Danish Days has evolved into a weekend-long festival showcasing the village’s heritage. The annual event, which celebrates the town’s Danish roots, includes authentic food, music, dancing, parades, live entertainment and family activities.
Serving as the 2021 Danish Maid, Ms. Bandel will also make Danish Days history as the oldest Danish Maid to hold the title, which is more traditionally bestowed upon a high school senior. At the age of 32, Ms. Bandel, the oldest daughter of Pete and Debbie Bandel, is granddaughter of Howard Petersen, who was born and raised in Solvang and was one of the Solvang Danish Days Foundation’s co-founders.
Mr. Petersen and his wife, Linda, were members of the Danish Brotherhood and Danish Sisterhood and also the Solvang Dania and Ms. Bandel’s aunt, Brenda Anderson, a former Danish Maid, currently serves as Danish Days co-chair
“Although I do not live in Solvang, Danish Days was always my favorite ‘holiday’ and celebration, from the time that I was a little girl. Every third weekend in September, I headed to Solvang to fulfill my Danish duties, beginning as a child when I helped with blowing up balloons for the children’s parade and passed out jam and juice at the æbleskiver breakfasts,” said Ms. Bandel.
“Every year since I entered high school, I have baked æbleskiver with my family, assisted with parade traffic, delivered Sunday’s breakfast to the Atterdag Village retirement community and have contributed to the event’s clean-up and breakdown. Never because I was told to do so, but because I want to ensure that this celebration continues … forever.”
The decision to name Ms. Bandel the 2021 Danish Maid was based on her years of service to the event and, like many of Solvang’s Danish Maids, due to the fact that her Danish Solvang roots run deep.
Ms. Bandel continued, “After the past two years that we’ve all experienced, being named Danish Maid 2021 means the world to me. It’s the best ‘award’ for making it through all of this. Many of my most favorite memories come from Danish Days, like being in the baking area with my grandma and listening to her laugh and tap her knitting needle to the music of the accordion playing nearby.
“She sang along to the tunes while my uncle walked around the baking area assisting all of the bakers. I could scan the baking tent and find my whole family and that, to me, is better than Christmas or Thanksgiving.”
Isabella Lopez, named Danish Maid 2020, is the great-granddaughter of Arne and Gerda Larsen, who immigrated to Canada from Denmark in the 1950s. The couple decided to return to Denmark, first embarking on U.S. travels, including a 1961 visit to the quaint village of Solvang, which resulted in their permanent residence in the town.
Mr. Larsen was part of the Danish Brotherhood, and Mrs. Larsen opened a fabric shop in Solvang, called Gerda’s Yardage. The couple raised two daughters and a son — Jette, Birgitte (“Gitte”), and Uffe (“Jack”) — in the Santa Ynez Valley, and each of their children remained in the region, starting families of their own.
Jette, Ms. Lopez’s paternal grandmother (whom she called “Mormor”), married and had four sons who all stayed near their hometown, each enjoying their Danish heritage and the family traditions.
Gitte took over the yardage shop and combined it with her mother-in-law’s business, Iron Art. She later became the 77th annual Solvang Danish Days Parade Grand Marshal. Jack married the 1968 Danish Days Maid, Marianne Ullum Larsen, and together they owned the Mollekroen, a now-shuttered Danish restaurant in Solvang.
“From family traditions like our Christmas Eve celebrations, recurring every year at Morfar and Mormor Larsen’s house, to learning to cook and bake Danish meals and treats with Mormor or Farmor Jette, whom we called Famy, I have loved and grown from every encounter with the Danish spirit and that of Solvang and its inhabitants,” said Ms. Lopez, 2020 Danish Maid.
Ms. Lopez, now 18 years old, thinks back to age 11 when she started to help at her family’s store, Iron Art, during the annual festivities. She began by greeting people at the shop door dressed in her Danish costume and progressed to running the cash register and restocking throughout the year as a part-time job, but her favorite work experiences were during Danish Days.
“During Danish Days, the whole town transformed from an already-lovely and awe-inspiring village to a whole new world filled with people and pieces of Danish history. It felt like stepping into a bit of the past. Seeing the joy, which the festival brought to the many tourists, was always exciting as it reminded me of just how important Solvang is to the rest of the world,” said Ms. Lopez.
She continued, “I want to do my part to keep this unique experience alive. In becoming a Danish Days Maid, it helps me to carry on the traditions of the past generations. As the older members of my own beloved family pass on, those who have taught me their ways and opened their hearts to so many, I see how easy it can be for the new generations to forget and displace the many unique and inspiring elements, and many hours of precious time, which have gone into Danish Days over the years. The thought of that happening is terrible, and I wish to remind my peers how vital our heritage is.”
She concluded, “Danish Days allows others to experience the singular history of Solvang. It’s unlike anything I have ever taken part in, and I want it to be kept alive and flourishing for future generations of locals and visitors.”
The Solvang Danish Days Foundation is currently accepting applications for the 2022 Danish Days Maid. Applicants must submit an essay about their qualifications and accomplishments, and preference will be given to a candidate who will be a high school senior during this fall.
During the festive weekend, the Danish Days Maid will have an honorary position in the Danish Days Parade and will need to be available for media interviews and other event appearances.
Applications can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Brenda Anderson, Solvang Danish Days Foundation, P.O. Box 1424, Solvang, CA 93463. The application deadline is May 18.
Leading up to this year’s Danish Days weekend, the Maids will sell “Win a Trip to Denmark” raffle tickets at the weekly Solvang Farmers Market. They will also appear at events for the Danish Brotherhood, Danish Sisterhood, Vikings of Solvang and at Valley Rotary Club meetings, to talk about the upcoming Danish Days events and represent their Danish lineage.
The Maids will also be available for appearances to speak about Danish Days, for other local boards or committees or for media appearances. For further Danish Maid appearance details and availability, contact Brenda Anderson at brendaA@rplmanagement.com.