Turkey Bingo brings generations of families together

Turkey Bingo hasn’t changed much since 1913. It still costs just a dime to play a game, and it’s still fun for many local families.

Staff Report

Katie Pearson has been playing Turkey Bingo since she was a little girl, and now her husband Justin and her daughter Stella, 5, are happy to be a part of the annual tradition at the Solvang Veterans Memorial Hall.

“I love that my daughter will grow up playing as I did — and I’ve never won yet, but I am always hopeful,” Pearson laughed.

The Vets Hall was packed with hundreds of people who waited in line to get in and take their seats in hopes of winning the 60 available turkeys.

Turkey Bingo has been around in the Santa Ynez Valley for more than 100 years, and this year’s event was held on Saturday, Nov. 18. (The prizes are frozen, not live, as they were in the beginning.)

Turkey Bingo hasn’t changed much since the beginning. It still costs just a dime to play a game, although the turkeys are bought frozen from El Rancho Marketplace. The final turkey won during the event also comes with a basket full of Thanksgiving goodies.

The event was begun in 1913 by the Hejls Minde 23 chapter of the Danish Society of Dania of California and Nevada. The wives of the Dania men started the Danish Ladies Society, Dannebrog of Dania, and took over the event in 1937. The Alpha Pi sorority then took over in the late 1980s and has run the event since.

In the days when live turkeys were awarded as prizes, “we would take the turkey home and hang it from the laundry line until dad could take care of it, in other words,” said Kathy Kelsey of Alpha Pi.

There are no more live turkeys, as there were in the days at Dania Hall, which stood on the site of the current Petro’s Cafe in Solvang. But hundreds of people still flock to the event in hopes of winning a frozen bird for Thanksgiving dinner.

“This is our first time coming and I am surprised at how many people showed up. We will definitely be back,” said Jody Williams of Solvang.

“As long as we can keep it 10 cents we will. We want anyone to be able to come and play no matter what their situation in life might be,” Kelsey said.

There were also other prizes to win, including gift baskets and certificates to local shops. Snacks and dinner were served by local organizations.

For more information, including ways to contribute to next year’s event, call Kelsey at 688-5804 or Shirley Hernandez at 688-4607.