BBC – Journey – The US reward that got here with a catch

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It was four July, and I used to be watching the Stars and Stripes hoisted up a flagpole by males in uniform as a rustic singer in cowboy boots and hat belted out my nationwide anthem. This was adopted by a second of prayer, asking God to bless the US president. Then got here a patriotic salute to American musical custom with a band made up of US Military members and a neighborhood singalong of God Bless America. 

If I used to be wherever in america on Independence Day, this scene might need made sense. As an alternative, I used to be some 7,400km away, within the hills of northern Denmark, experiencing a surreal salute to my house nation – in my adopted nation – that married all the eagerness of the American dream with the family-friendly hygge of a Danish picnic in a park.

That is the Rebild Pageant – arguably the most important Independence Day celebration exterior the US. The unlikely event has drawn 1000’s of red-white-and-blue revellers to Denmark’s Rebild area, a municipality about 30km south of Aalborg, since 1912.

However, why Denmark? It’s a narrative rooted in homesickness from an age when leaving Europe for the US meant saying goodbye to mates, relations and nation – usually ceaselessly.

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Within the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, there was a mass exodus of Danes to the US. These emigrants have been spurred by higher financial alternatives overseas as properly by the Mormon faith, which 1000’s of Danes transformed to. The Rebild Nationwide Park Society, the Danish-American friendship group that organises the Rebild Pageant, estimates some 300,000 individuals left Denmark for the US by 1912.

“Lots of them left Denmark when occasions have been arduous. They got here to America and a few of them took that freedom and alternative and made one thing of themselves, and so they have been actually proud and so they have been grateful to America,” stated Niels Voigt Guldbjerg, president of the Danish American Membership in Denmark, who lived within the US for 32 years. “They have been so distant again then that it meant extra once they got here again to Denmark, and so they cherished America a lot as a result of America gave them the chance that they didn’t get at house.”

A kind of emigrants was Max Henius, a biochemist who arrange store in Chicago and went on to discovered the profitable American Brewing Academy, educating the artwork of European-style fermentation to pre-Prohibition–period brewmasters.

Whereas returning to Denmark for these emigrants was a uncommon, costly and time-consuming journey, taking a number of weeks by ship, those that discovered their fortunes overseas have been notably motivated to return and recognise each the significance of their heritage and the alternatives that the US had afforded them. It was this group of newly minted Individuals, led by Henius, that purchased a 200-acre parcel of land in northern Denmark in 1911 as a spot of homecoming for all Danish-Individuals. In 1912, they donated the land to Danish king Christian X, who in flip established Rebild Bakker (Rebild Nationwide Park) as a pure retreat for all Danes to get pleasure from.

However the reward got here with a catch.


Yearly, Henius insisted, the park should maintain a pageant celebrating American Independence Day as an emblem of friendship between the 2 international locations. The nationwide park would additionally function a spot for American Danes to return and at all times really feel at house, whether or not assembly with relations nonetheless in Denmark or celebrating the American dream with like-minded mates. The outcome, right this moment, is a trippy mishmash of traditions that brings collectively the very Danish love of singing and snaps (aquavit). 

At its rain-soaked inauguration in 1912, the Rebild Pageant drew greater than 10,000 members to the park, some 1,000 of whom had made the lengthy journey by ship from the US to have a good time their heritage, in line with the Rebild Nationwide Park Society. At its post-war peak in 1948, the celebration attracted round 50,000 company. Notable attendees over time have included US Supreme Courtroom Chief Justice Earl Warren (1955); animator Walt Disney (1961); former US president Richard Nixon and Danish king Frederik IX (1962); six-time Grammy Award-winning singer Dionne Warwick (1988); American tv and movie actor Richard Chamberlain (1990); and US Legal professional Normal Janet Reno (1994).

Immediately, the pageant of friendship has morphed into a virtually week-long celebration of get-togethers, galas and ceremonies all through the Rebild area that continues to cement the ties that bind the 2 international locations. It’s a spot for all individuals within the US – whether or not they’ve been to there or not – to collect and have a good time.

On the four July opening tent luncheon this 12 months, I met Rebild Pageant fanatic Helle Agerbak Lyngaa, 52, who was bedecked head to toe in patriotic regalia, together with American flag antennae and a sweatshirt stating “Made in America” – although she’s 100% Danish. She settled herself at my desk and immediately made mates with our surrounding seatmates: a handful of newcomers; a person who has attended the affair yearly since 1948; and three generations of Danes with a love for the Rebild Pageant.

“You could discover some kindred spirits, which is what we do right here,” she instructed me.

“[The post-luncheon event] is the primary factor, the icing on the cake,” stated Lyngaa, who has attended or been concerned within the annual occasion since she was about 5 years previous and is a long-time member of the Danish American Membership and the Rebild Society. “However I discover all the opposite occasions [in the weeks leading up to the 4 July festival] at the very least as essential, as a result of that’s the place you get the friendships.”

She continued: “This can be a lot about custom. Numerous Danish-Individuals coming house are coming for the reminiscences – and coming as a result of they lengthy for what they’ve left. There’s nonetheless this eager for custom.”

The tent luncheon, a two hour-long feast of pickled herring, smorrebrød and Aalborg snaps, was punctuated by toasting songs ­and a bit of ritual as a handful of Individuals and native dignitaries have been feted for his or her contributions to the festivities.

“There was a time within the US when individuals weren’t as concerned about their heritage and the place they have been from and making an attempt to not communicate their native language at house,” stated American Ed Bladt, president of the Delaware Valley Rebild Chapter. Although he lives in and is from the US, Bladt, who’s married to a Dane, speaks Danish at house and his kids and grandchildren’s first phrases have been “skål”, or “cheers”. He was honoured this 12 months with a number of awards, together with being proclaimed Mayor of Aalborg – Henius’ house metropolis – for a day in recognition for his efforts in selling Danish-American relationships. Now, Bladt says, it’s come full circle: there’s a renewed curiosity in heritage, maybe due to the presence of expertise that makes it simpler to maintain connections going robust.

“If you get to Denmark, everybody desires you to come back and go to and you’ll’t at all times do this as a result of they’re so many individuals, so we go to Rebild,” Bladt instructed me. “Rebild is one place that we are able to get collectively and meet [with all Danish friends and family at once].”

Although the 2019 occasion was chilly and moist, a whole lot of individuals poured out of the luncheon tent and made their method up a path lined by US state flags to the primary attraction within the hills of the park. We have been greeted by the ceremonial elevating of American and Danish flags (accompanied by extra singing), and a prayer in Danish emphasising the ties between the 2 international locations. Different speeches adopted, in between neighborhood singalongs of conventional Danish ballads and a rendition of God Bless America.

The scene was surreal. I used to be staring on the Stars and Stripes whereas shivering below a parka in a downpour. However for Danes, like those that attended the primary pageant, this was nothing. A standard saying in Denmark is, “there’s no unhealthy climate, solely unhealthy clothes” and it confirmed, as maybe 1,000 revellers have been at this post-luncheon out of doors occasion within the park.

Though the numbers of celebrants since Henius’ days could have dwindled – with about 2,000 attendees in sunny years, and seven,500 company on the occasion’s 100th anniversary in 2012, in line with Rebild Nationwide Park Society Secretary Normal Lars Bisgaard – the eagerness for all issues American right here has not.

“I feel with tradition, in some methods it’s like vogue. In 20 or 30 years, developments cycle, and I feel they are going to come again, it’s only a matter of attracting individuals,” Lyngaa mused. “I feel the Rebild [National Park] Society will nonetheless be there in 100 years, possibly not in the identical form and type, however we’ll at all times be there. We lengthy for the journey of huge America, and Individuals lengthy for his or her custom and roots in Denmark. It’s going to at all times be there.”

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