Posted May 7, 2022
| 4:03 p.m.
Kayla Bandel is Denmark’s 2021 Maid. (Courtesy Photo)
For the first time in the 85th anniversary of the celebration, Solvang Danish Days this year will be chaired by three Danish servants (for 2020, 2021 and 2022), the non-profit Solvang Danish Days Foundation has announced. The Danish Heritage Festival returns after a two-year hiatus with an event weekend from September 16-18.
Isabella Lopez has been named Danish Maid 2020; and Kayla Bandel the Danish Maid 2021. Applications for the Danish Maid 2022 are now being accepted.
The deadline for submission is May 18. Applicants must submit an essay on their qualifications and achievements. Preference will be given to an applicant who will be in high school in the fall of 2022. Applications can be emailed to [email protected] or by post to Brenda Anderson, Solvang Danish Days Foundation, PO Box 1424, Solvang, CA 93463.
During the festival, Danish Days maids will occupy an honorary position in the Danish Days parade and should be available for media interviews and other appearances at events.
2016 Solvang Danish Days Maid Natalya Nielsen, left, with 2020 Danish Maid Isabella Lopez. (Courtesy picture)
“In an unprecedented decision due mainly to the two-year pandemic-induced hiatus of the festival, the Solvang Danish Days Foundation has decided that it is right to give the first two very deserving young ladies their chance at Danish Maid, even if the festival could not take place in 2020 and 2021,” said Brenda Anderson, board member of the Solvang Danish Days Foundation and co-chair of the Solvang Danish Days 2022.
From humble beginnings in 1936, when a day-long celebration commemorating the 25th anniversary of Solvang’s founding in 1911 was conceived, Danish Days has grown into a weekend-long festival showcasing the heritage from the village.
The annual event celebrating the city’s Danish roots includes authentic food, music, dancing, parades, performances and family activities.
As Danish Maid 2021, Kayla Bandel, 32, will also make Danish Days history as the oldest Danish Maid to hold the title, which is more traditionally awarded to a high school student.
Bandel is the eldest daughter of Pete and Debbie Bandel, and granddaughter of Howard Petersen, who was born and raised in Solvang and was one of the co-founders of the Solvang Danish Days Foundation. Petersen and his wife Linda were members of the Danish Brotherhood and the Danish Brotherhood and Solvang Dania.
Bandel’s aunt, Brenda Anderson, herself a former Danish maid, is currently co-chair of Danish Days.
“Although I don’t live in Solvang, Danish Days have always been my favorite ‘holidays’ and celebrations, ever since I was a little girl,” Kayla Bandel said. “Every third weekend in September, I traveled to Solvang to complete my Danish chores, starting as a child when I helped blow up balloons for the children’s parade, and handing out jam and juice at æbleskiver breakfasts.
“Each year since entering high school, I have cooked æbleskiver with my family, helped with parade traffic, delivered Sunday breakfast to the retirement community in the village of Atterdag, and helped clean up and to the breakdown of the event. Never because I was told to, but because I want to make sure this celebration continues…forever.
The decision to name Bandel the Danish Maid 2021 was based on her years of service to the event, and like many Danish Solvang Maids, because her Danish Solvang roots run deep.
“After the past two years that we’ve all been through, being named Danish Maid 2021 means the world to me. It’s the best ‘reward’ for going through it all,” said Bandel. “Many of my most favorite memories come from Danish Days, like being in the cooking area with my grandmother 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 cooking area helping out all the bakers. I could scan the cooking tent and find all my 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 undertaking trips to the United States, including a 1961 visit to the quaint village of Solvang, which led them to make Solvang their permanent home.
Arne was part of the Danish Brotherhood and Gerda opened a fabric shop in Solvang, Gerda’s Yardage. They raised two daughters and a son, Jette, Birgitte (“Gitte”) and Uffe (“Jack”) in the Santa Ynez Valley. Each of the children remained in the area, starting their own family.
Jette, the paternal grandmother of Lopez (whom she called “Mormor”), married and had four sons who all stayed close to their hometown, enjoying their Danish heritage and family traditions. Gitte took over the yard store and combined it with her mother-in-law’s business, Iron Art. She then became the 77th annual Grand Marshal of the Solvang Danish Days Parade.
Jack married Danish Days 1968 maid Marianne Ullum Larsen and together they owned the Mollekroen, a now closed Danish restaurant in Solvang.
“Family traditions like our Christmas Eve celebrations, recurring every year at Morfar and Mormor Larsen, learning to cook and bake Danish dishes and treats with Mormor or Farmor Jette, whom we called Famy, I loved and grew from every encounter with the Danish spirit and that of Solvang and its people,” said Isabella Lopez.
Lopez, now 18, thinks back to when she was 11, when she started helping out at her family’s store, Iron Art, during the annual festivities. She started by greeting people at the door of the store wearing her Danish costume, then continued to manage the cash register and restock throughout the year as a part-time job, but her experiences of favorite jobs were during the Danish days.
“During Danish Days, the whole city transformed from an already charming and impressive village into a whole new world filled with people and pieces of Danish history,” Lopez said. “It was like stepping into a bit of the past. Seeing the joy the festival brought to the many tourists was always exciting as it reminded me how important Solvang is to the rest of the world.
“I want to do my part to keep this unique experience alive. By becoming a Danish Days housekeeper, it helps me carry on the traditions of past generations.
“As the eldest members of my own beloved family pass away, those who taught me their ways and opened their hearts to so many, I see how easy it can be for new generations to forget. and to move the many unique and inspiring elements, and many hours of valuable time, that have been dedicated to Danish Days over the years.
“The thought of this happening is terrible, and I want to remind my peers how vital our legacy is. The Danish Days allow others to experience Solvang’s singular story. I’ve ever participated in and I want it to be kept alive and thriving for future generations of locals and visitors,” Lopez said.
“The Danish spirit of past generations has had a huge influence on Danish Days today, and that’s one of the reasons why the festival is so genuine and sentimental. I’m honored to have the opportunity to do my part to keep Solvang’s heritage alive, helping to introduce others to the Danish culture of Solvang,” she said.
Ahead of the Danish Days weekend, maids will be selling Win a Trip to Denmark raffle tickets at the weekly Solvang Farmers Market. They will also appear at events for the Danish Brotherhood, Danish Brotherhood, Solvang Vikings and at Valley Rotary Club meetings to talk about Danish Days events and represent their Danish lineage.
The women will be available for appearances to speak about Danish days for other local councils and committees. For more details on the Danish Maid’s appearance and availability, contact Brenda Anderson at [email protected]
To learn more about Solvang Danish Days, including event history, updated 2022 calendar, details, parade entries and contact details, visit www.SolvangDanishDays.org.