By April Charlton
Growing up in the Santa Ynez Valley, Christiana Heron dreamed of the day she might become the Danish Maid presiding over Solvang’s popular Danish Days Festival — just as three generations of women in her family, including two sisters, had done.
This year her dream came true, even though for few moments, it seemed like all her hopes would be dashed.
“I was kind of crushed for a second. I didn’t think I could be a maid,” she said, because she heard about a rule that allowed only one member of a family to serve as the maid.
However, the Solvang Danish Days Foundation, which chooses the Danish Maid each year, had rescinded that rule.
In 1961, Christiana’s grandmother, Ann Nielsen, served as the first official “greeter” to the festival that’s held every September, which, at the time, also coincided with Solvang’s 50th anniversary.
After that anniversary celebration, the post of Danish Maid was officially created. This year, Christiana, 17, joins her mother, Betina Nielsen Heron (1988) and sisters Gabrielle Heron (2017) and Angelique Heron (2014) as the face of the annual festival.
“I always wanted to be maid,” Heron said of the title. “It’s been cool because I am the last woman in my family to finish a tradition.”
“It’s been a real bonding experience for my family.”
Danish Days began as an event honoring the 1911 establishment of Solvang by Danish-Americans, and this year’s 82nd annual event will run for three days from Friday to Sunday, Sept. 14-16, with Heron presiding over the festivities that include authentic food, music, dancing, parades, live entertainment and family activities.
This year’s Danish Days theme — Beautiful Denmark by the Sea — recognizes Denmark’s historical and cultural connection to the sea, according to organizers.
Christiana’s great-grandfather, Axel Nielsen, was a part of the beginnings of the event, and her great-great-grandparents, Marcus and Andrea Nielsen, who emigrated from Mors, Denmark, were among the early immigrant settlers of Solvang.
The teen said she and her sisters grew up working at the weekend festival that showcases Solvang’s heritage and celebrates its culture and that she has enjoyed learning more about her ancestors this year through her service as Danish Days Maid 2018.
“It has been in our family (for a long time),” Christiana said of Danish Days. “We have got the drill down.”
She said her favorite part of the entire process so far has been designing her Danish Maid dress, which the teen wanted to set her apart from her sisters, mother and grandmother. Her red and olive-green Danish Maid dress was custom-made and hand-sewn, like so many before hers, by Roberta Skidmore of Solvang.
“I wanted something that was unique to me,” she said. “A lot of it (the colors) was my personal preference … not historical. It was cool to put it all together and design it.”
Leading up to this year’s Danish Days weekend, the teen has been selling raffle tickets at the weekly Solvang Farmers Market. She will also appear at events for the Danish Brotherhood, the Danish Sisterhood, the Vikings of Solvang and at valley Rotary Club meetings, where she will speak about Danish Days events and represent her Danish lineage.
As Danish Maid 2018, Christiana is most looking forward to the public speaking aspects of her duties, as she believes that will help her prepare for future endeavors, she said.
She is entering her senior year at Santa Ynez Valley Union High, where she participates in track and field. She also plays AYSO soccer, is a part of her church’s youth group, on the student leadership team there, and a member of the worship band. She often volunteers at the local humane society.
Christiana’s long-standing family history with Danish Days also includes the appointment of her cousin, Natalya Nielsen, as the 2016 Danish Maid. Her great-grandparents — Axel and Margaret Nielsen — served as Danish Days Parade grand marshals in 1971 and in 2010, and her grandparents, Roger and Ann Nielsen, have also been grand marshals. Other family members have also been involved with the event and the foundation over the years.
For more information about this year’s Danish Days, visit www.SolvangDanishDays.org.