The charitable Solvang Danish Days Foundation has named Solvang’s own Gabrielle Heron as the 2017 Danish Maid. Gabrielle will preside over this year’s Solvang Danish Days, California’s premier Danish heritage festival, which returns for its 81st anniversary with a three-day event weekend, Friday through Sunday, September 15 through 17, 2017.
Since Solvang Danish Days’ modest beginnings in 1936, when Gabrielle’s great-grandfather, Axel Nielsen, debuted the festival to commemorate the village’s 25th anniversary, the event has set out to celebrate Solvang’s Danish heritage with authentic food, music, dancing, parades, live entertainment and family activities. The 2017 Solvang Danish Days theme – “Solvang – How Sweet It Is!” – will be observed 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 Gabrielle’s grandfather, Roger Nielsen, took the helm. Gabrielle’s uncle, Rodney Nielsen, is currently the breakfast chairman.
“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,” said Gabrielle.
Gabrielle’s fondness for the tales of her mother’s, Betina Heron’s, reign as the 1988 Danish Maid, and the photos from that time, fueled her excitement to one day hold the same title. Gabrielle’s reverence for her mother’s time as Danish Maid, also provided her motivation for her own Danish Maid costume.
Gabrielle explained, “I fell in love with my mother’s Danish Days costume which was fashioned after a Danish wedding dress circa 1750-1900s, which I’ve been lucky enough to borrow for the past three years. So in designing my dress this year, I based it off of the same style as hers, copying the lovely lace sleeves and delicate trim and bodice. I chose the traditional Danish black and red for the colors of my costume. It’s very sweet to be Danish Maid and to pay homage to my mother’s costume, to truly follow in her footsteps as Maid. I believe she might be more excited than I am!”
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 Gabrielle’s 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. Gabrielle’s uncle, Rodney Nielsen, has volunteered for Danish Days for the last thirty-plus years. He has served on the Danish Days Foundation Board for the last twelve years and served as co-chair of the Board in 2013.
Born and raised in Solvang, Gabrielle recently graduated from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School with high honors, where she participated in varsity soccer, and track and field. She is also a part of her church’s youth group and is on the student leadership team. Gabrielle has worked in her grandfather’s store, Nielsen’s Market, for the past three years, and this past year, tutored math, science, and Spanish. Gabrielle will be attending Biola University in the fall, majoring in math in the hopes of becoming a high school math teacher.
Gabrielle concluded, “Two years ago I had the privilege of visiting Denmark with my family. It was a unique experience to feel right at home, miles away. Solvang has truly captured the charm of its motherland through its architecture, food, and community. They say Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world, and I hope you’ll be just as happy celebrating with us this [Danish Days] weekend in our little California slice of Denmark.”
Leading up to this year’s Danish Days weekend, Gabrielle 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. Gabrielle 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, about possibly 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.