INTERVIEW with The Danish Pioneer Newspaper: Meet some of the hardworking volunteers at Danish Days in Solvang, California
September 20, 2013
The 77th Annual DANISH DAYS have arrived in Solvang, California on September 20 – 22, 2013 and The Danish Pioneer Newspaper caught up with three busy volunteers, who are very involved with the big festival in the “Danish capital of America”. Meet Master Papercutter Rick Marzullo and Linda Johansen, who are on the Danish Days Foundation Board, and Emma Andersen, who is the 2013 Danish Days Maid.
“‘Since 1936′ is quite a proud thing to boast about,” says Rick Marzullo about the traditional Danish Days. “We are one of the oldest and longest-running ethnic festivals in California.”
Rick adds he is a relative “newcomer” to Danish Days. “This will be my 33rd Danish Days!,” he explains. “I married a Dane — that says it all, well almost. On my mother’s side I am Dansk, Norsk, Svensk. I have been on the Board since 1998.”
Linda Johansen explains how large the Danish festival is and how it impacts the community. “Danish Days is a three-day event and attended by over 20,000 people during the festivities,” she says. “The hotels are always full, up to 100 buses from out of the area cruise in throughout the weekend, and usually about 3,500 enjoy our breakfast between the two days. There are special activities from the beginning with the candle lit parade and opening ceremonies, parades, wood carving, costumes and cultural activities, Danish Dancing, street dancing and our local Danish Rebild Ball make up a fantastic venue for the locals and visitors alike.”
She adds, “There is a concentration of events for the children in the park that make this an inviting event for families. The support of this event is what keeps the Danish Days Foundation working all year long, to prepare for the next Danish Days celebration. This is a wonderful marketing opportunity for Solvang to showcase our ‘Little Denmark’ without have to travel overseas. The local merchants, hotels, and restaurants all enjoy the residual effect that our Danish Days weekend brings to them. It is a wonderful celebration of local Danish traditions which should NOT be missed!”
The 2013 Danish Days Maid Emma Andersen is especially looking forward to the parades. “Over the weekend there are two parades,” she says. “The main parade is on Saturday and it is a huge parade that draws a big crowd. The parade on Sunday is called the ‘Children’s Parade’ because it takes place right before closing ceremonies. Since I was little, I have been in every parade. Our family always creates a float that is crazy and fun and it always gets the crowd involved and energized. Last year, we built a 20’ tall motorized aebleskiver pan. It was amazing. We tossed ‘aebleskivers’ (really beach balls painted brown to look like aebleskivers) into the crowd then we sprinkled them with ‘sugar’ (potato flakes). The parades are a lot of fun. I love seeing the crowd get involved and excited over our floats.”
Linda Johansen’s family is made up of five generations of “Solvang” Danes who have ALL participated in Danish Days in one fashion or another. “My Father Daryl A. Nielsen was a chairman of Danish Days in the early days,” she says, “and I was chairwoman of Danish Days in 1988 while I was pregnant. Of course, I had specially made a maternity Danish Costume to wear. I continue to wear my newer Danish Costume with great pride and work to help in whatever way I can to make sure that our local Danish Days will continue for the locals and our visitors.”
Linda says that Danish Days is all about celebrating the Danish heritage and customs in a festive way. “This is a tradition that started over 100 years ago by our ancestors and continues to this day,” says Linda. “For the Danish families that grew up here, Danish Days to us is as important as Christmas. It is a time to remember and reflect on our Danish roots and to be grateful for our ancestors who settled in this magical place that we are fortunate enough to call our home. The Danish Village of Solvang, isn’t just a tourist destination, but home to many of the original Danes and their families.”
2013 Danish Maid Emma Andersen agrees that Danish Days is so popular because it represents and highlights the heritage and uniqueness of their town. “To me, Danish Days has always been a weekend to celebrate and share family and tradition,” she says. “ I have been a part of Danish Days since I was five months old and I have always loved spending time with my family, hosting fun kid booths in the park, and wearing my Tante Donna’s and Mor Mor’s handmade Danish outfits from years past.”
Emma says she loves cooking aebleskivers in the mornings! “Each year, we have a huge tent sent up and volunteers cook a delicious aebleskiver breakfast for the locals and tourists,” she says. “Over the Danish Days weekend, we serve more than 3,000 aebleskiver breakfasts. I love helping with the breakfast because it is a great time to catch up with other volunteers & locals and an ideal time to talk to the visitors of our town. I am also looking forward to the Friday night festivities because we have the Danish Dancers perform and we are all invited to join in. I love dancing with my Dad and Bedstefar.”
The Danish contributions and Danish-American volunteers have meant a lot to DANISH DAYS throughout the years. “Danish Days would NOT have continued without the support of the locals who volunteer their time, efforts, and money to this yearly event,” says Linda Johansen. “We do get some support from Danish contributors, but certainly not as much as we did years ago. With the economy I’m sure those companies try to support things that are more local to them. We have enjoyed and appreciate whatever support we can continue to receive from our Danish contributors.”
Emma Andersen agrees, “Danish Days is made possible by the local volunteers; without them, there would not be a Danish Days. There are no paid positions and what is so impressive about the event is that everyone just shows up year after year to set up, cook aebleskivers, and clean up. No one (except for members of the board) actually sign up for anything. Everyone just knows what needs to be done and they show up and help. Many of our local businesses also donate heavy equipment and other necessary things to make Danish Days happen.”
Of course, these volunteers are looking forward to the food. “My favorite food during Danish Days….of course the aebleskiver, the Smorgaasbord with frikadeller (meatballs), medisterpølse (Danish Sausage) and the Rødkaal–the red cabbage,” says Linda. “Of course finish off the Danish Traditional meal with some Danish Pastry of Kringles with marizipan and Butter Rings or Seven Sisters……It doesn’t get much better than that!”
Likewise, Emma says aebleskiver are her favorite treat. “This my definite favorite (with extra jam and sugar),” she says. “I also love the lunch that is served on Saturday. It is for the volunteers and it is delicious. It is a traditional Danish luncheon. The open-faced sandwiches are made by the Jaeger Family and they do an amazing job feeding everyone.” Rick Marzullo adds that he is looking forward to the “Smørrebrød and Rullepølse”.
As a young Danish-American, Emma Andersen thinks that it is so important for the local youth to stay connected within their community. “It is important to give back and to contribute to the town that you live in,” she says. “I think the older generation needs to make an effort to ask their children and grandchildren to help and to get involved in Danish Days. Kids need to come out and support Danish Days. Once you start volunteering and working with others, you start to realize the importance of community and how being involved makes you feel connected.”
Rick Marzullo concludes, “In the past we have had some contributions from Denmark. But our greatest contribution to the quality of this festival is our heritage. Thousands attend each year. The support of our volunteers over the year has made Danish Days in Solvang a really special event. It is not unusual to see third and fourth generations of a family come together to volunteer or celebrate, even when many family members live quite a distance away. We can even brag some 6th generation participants! It’s a wonderful feeling of commitment by many, to keeping the old traditions alive and well, and show pride in our heritage. Many families make attending Danish Days an event similar to a family reunion. But we also have those who come to be a ‘Dane for a Day’ and celebrate also — it’s a very welcoming atmosphere here in Solvang.”
Read more about Danish Days at www.solvangdanishdays.org.
You can already start planning now for the 2014 event, which is scheduled for September 19 – 21, 2014. Mark your calendars now.
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