Thousands of people lined the streets of Solvang all day Saturday, seeking to be Danish for a day, as the city celebrated its heritage with the annual Danish Days festival, which continues Sunday with events for all ages.
Danish flags were abundant, as were people wearing either the traditional costumes of Denmark or plastic horned Viking helmets — or both — as they shopped for everything from wooden swords and shields to clothing and jewelry from the vendors in the Old World Artisans Marketplace set up on First Street.
On Copenhagen Drive, visitors crowded around to watch the Solvang Village Folk Dancers perform and demonstrations of how to make aebleskiver, a treat that led to a long line of people waiting to get into Solvang Restaurant, where the dessert is a specialty.
“I absolutely love this stuff,” said Ricky Montenegro, of Riverside, as he watched a demonstration. “Solvang is the only place I know of where you can get it year-round. It’s why I come here a couple times a year — at least once for Danish Days, if nothing else.”
But despite his love of the sweet pastry, Montenegro said he had no plans to enter any of the weekend’s aebleskiver eating contests.
“I already eat too much of it as it is,” he said, adding that he had already filled up at the Aebleskiver Breakfast that morning. “And I gotta at least pretend to watch my weight.”
A popular spot with the children was the Elverhoj Museum of History and Art, which hosts the Living History Festival over Danish Days weekend, where artisans and craftspeople not only demonstrate their skills but also teach others such old-time talents as bobbin lace making and papirklip, or the art of papercutting.
Children — and adults — sat enthralled as Hans Christian Andersen, portrayed by Randel McGee, told the timeless tales of Denmark that have become known the world over as he practiced papirklip on the lawn behind the museum.
Among those in the audience were Brian Hanrahan, of Pleasanton, who was holding daughter Soleil, age 1, both of them in traditional Danish costumes — except for the boy’s cap on Soleil’s head.
“We lived in Santa Barbara for 10 years,” Hanrahan said. “Danish Days is worth coming back for.
“This dress is 10 years old,” he added pointing to Soleil’s costume. “We have a tradition of passing it down among the kids.”
Lined up in a row right in front of Andersen were Hanrahan’s other children, Cielle, age 10, Seren, 8, and Hawken, 4.
“My oldest has never missed a Danish Days,” he added.
Moving through the crowds was another family in full costume — Martin and Elizabeth Burkhard with their children Tor, age 10, Arik, 8, and Bjorn, 4.
“These (costumes) are from a much older period,” Martin said as he pulled a wagon that appeared to be full of faux animal furs.
Asked where they were from, Elizabeth responded, “We’re from Haithabu. Well, not really, but … .”
Martin explained that Haithabu was once the biggest Viking settlement in Denmark until it was destroyed in 1066, and their clothing was from closer to that era that that of the Hanrahans, which he said is from more like 100 years ago.
Martin said Haithabu is now part of Germany, and it’s where he’s originally from.
“My mother still lives there,” he said, adding that his wife is from Illinois, but now they live in Thousand Oaks.
This was their second visit to Danish Days, although they attend the annual Scandinavian Festival in Thousand Oaks, where they became friends with members of the Ravens of Odin, a Viking-age educational group that set up an encampment in Solvang Park.
“We’re going over there to join them later,” Martin said. “The kids like giving sword-fighting lessons.”
Over in the Viking encampment, Gregg Vaughn, of Ventura County, explained the sharp-pointed wooden pole barricades that guarded the entrance to a curious visitor before moving back to his vendor booth where an unusual chess-style game was surrounded by various other items.
“I like to teach people King’s Table,” he said, pointing to the board where a light-colored king figure sat at the center, surrounded by light-colored pieces, which he said, were the equivalent of rooks. Along each side, small groups of dark-colored rooks faced the king, each with a leader out front.
Vaughn explained how the game was probably brought to Scandinavia long ago from Persia, and Vikings would play it — with many variations of rules — over long, cold winters and on long sea voyages.
“Viking ships didn’t have benches. They had to bring their own bench,” he explained, pointing to a bench that opened up for storage. “That’s where the chests originated. Your share of plunder was whatever would fit in the chest. Often they find chests with these game boards carved into the top.”
Another of the Ravens of Odin, like the Burkhard family, demonstrated how “being Danish” encompasses more nations and cultures that that of Denmark.
Carlos Eriksson said his grandmother was from Sweden, his grandfather was from Lithuania and they met in Germany.
“I was born and raised in Argentina, and I’ve traveled the world,” he said, adding he now lives in Los Angeles.
But being part of the Ravens of Odin and Danish Days is very important to him.
“I still hold onto many of the traditions of my grandmother,” he said. “I speak Swedish. I actually speak three languages — Swedish, Spanish and English. It’s important to keep traditions alive, to know where we come from.”
He stepped away to pose for a photo with a visitor.
“I always enjoy when people have a good time,” he explained.
About that time, the Danish Days Parade stepped off on Oak Street and began its loop around the city.
Consisting of only about two dozen entries, it passed by in about 15 minutes — except for the last entry that lagged several blocks behind.
But it was worth the wait, as a huge mermaid rolled by atop a large truck, her tail raised about 20 feet high, as music thumped and children skipped alongside bouncing large clear beach balls.
“Beautiful Denmark by the Sea” was the theme of the parade, and a “havefru,” or mermaid, was depicted on this year’s Danish Days pins sold by the Danish Days Foundation to help pay for the annual festival.