The charitable Solvang Danish Days Foundation has named Solvang’s own Natalya Nielsen as the 2016 Danish Maid. Natalya will preside over this year’s Solvang Danish Days, California’s premier Danish heritage festival, which marks its 80th anniversary with a three-day event weekend, Friday through Sunday, September 16 through 18, 2016.
Since Solvang Danish Days’ modest beginnings in 1936, when Natalya’s great-grandfather, Axel Nielsen, debuted the festival as a celebration of the village’s 25th anniversary, the event has set out to fête Solvang’s Danish heritage with authentic food, music, dancing, parades, live entertainment and family activities. The 2016 Solvang Danish Days theme – “Think of Something Danish” – will be celebrated during this year’s event, which honors the 1911 establishment of Solvang by Danish-Americans including Axel’s immigrant parents, Marcus and Andrea Nielsen, who hailed from Mors, Denmark.
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 Natalya’s grandfather, Roger Nielsen, took the helm. Natalya’s father, Rodney Nielsen, is currently the breakfast chairman.
“I am deeply honored to serve as Solvang’s 2016 Danish Maid. Since a very young age, I have been dreaming of becoming Danish Maid. I would proudly wear my ‘Future Danish Maid’ sash in parades and while serving breakfast, waiting for my turn. Now, it is an absolute privilege that I have the opportunity to represent my heritage, family, and town in such a special way,” said Natalya.
Natalya was born on July 14, 1999, and two months later, in September, she attended her first Danish Days. Natalya donned her first Danish Days costume – from Elna’s Dress Shop – at the age of one. When Natalya was eight years old, her family from Norway sent her a Norwegian bunad, the traditional dress of Norway, which shares many characteristics with that of the traditional Danish costume. She wore a bunad until the age of 13, when she started wearing one of her grandmother, Ann Nielsen’s, old dresses.
Natalya’s 2016 Danish Maid dress is inspired by the traditional costumes from her family’s origins of Mors, Denmark; the dress is handmade by Roberta Skidmore, who incorporated old lace from Natalya’s great-grandmother, Margaret’s, apron into the cap, and a neck collar from one of Margaret’s dresses into the sleeves of Natalya’s new dress.
Danish Days is a family affair for Natalya: her cousin, Angelique Heron, was the 2014 Danish Maid; her aunt, Betina Heron, served as the 1988 Danish Maid; and Natalya’s grandmother, Ann, was the first to hold court as a Danish Maid, in 1961. Natalya’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, Natalya’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. Natalya’s father, Rodney, has volunteered for Danish Days for the last thirty years. He has served on the Danish Days Foundation Board for the last eleven years and served as co-chair of the Board in 2013.
Born and raised in Solvang, Natalya is currently a student at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, where she keeps busy with honors and AP classes, as well as performing in high school plays and serving as President of the school’s theatre club. Natalya is also Vice President of the YMCA’s Youth and Government organization.
On weekends, Natalya helps out at Nielsen’s Market, her family’s business, where her father, Rodney, is the manager and president and her mother, Nicole Nielsen, also lends a hand. Natalya’s brother, Andrew Nielsen, is a freshmen at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, where he plays both basketball and volleyball.
Natalya continued, “I am so proud of my family’s history in Solvang and Danish Days. Being able to represent them and the wonderful volunteers who make Danish Days possible, is my greatest pleasure and honor. I hope you all have a wonderful time at the 2016 Danish Days festivities. Skål!”
Leading up to this year’s Danish Days weekend, Natalya will sell “Win a Trip to Denmark” raffle tickets at the weekly Solvang Farmers Market. She will also appear at events for the Danish Brotherhood, the Danish Sisterhood, the Vikings and at Valley Rotary Club meetings, to talk about the upcoming Danish Days events and represent her Danish heritage. Natalya is also 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, please contact Denise Birkholm at danishdays [at] aol [dot] com.
About the Solvang Danish Days Foundation
In early 1995, the Solvang City Council approached Santa Ynez Valley residents from long-established, local Danish families and other interested groups, and recommended setting up a non-profit foundation – Solvang Danish Days Foundation – to formally plan and organize the increasingly popular, annual Danish Days festivities. The original Solvang Danish Days Foundation board members were Ken Andersen, Brenda Anderson, Hans Birkholm, Max Hanberg, Howard Petersen, David Rasmussen and Henry Skytt. The Foundation members meet throughout the year to ready each year’s celebration. Donations and volunteers for the event, are always welcome; please contact the Foundation for more information.