By Raiza Giorgi

Gabrielle Heron can remember as a little girl picking up copies of the Danish Days magazines that had pictures of her mother on the cover and wanting so badly to be the Danish Maid.

When her sister Angelique Heron was chosen in 2014, Gabrielle was happy she was picked but at the same time a little sad, as the rules of the organization at the time said only one sibling can be Danish Maid.

“I was obviously right by her side helping Angelique the whole time because I was thrilled she was chosen, and I got to help again when my cousin Natalya was picked last year. We all grew up running around Solvang during Danish Days together and it was even more special,” she said.

Then, when Gabrielle learned the rules had changed and she had been picked to be the 2017 Danish Maid, she was so excited she could barely stand it. She says she is confident she will do a great job, and is excited to represent the Danish Days Foundation and Solvang.

“Continuing tradition is really important to me because our Danish heritage is a big part of my life. Our family is really close and we cook Danish food together on special holidays and are always there for each other. I love taking pictures with tourists and telling them a bit about our town and the history of how we came to be,” Heron said.

Her great-grandfather, Axel Nielsen, started the festival as a celebration of the village’s 25th anniversary in 1936.

Heron’s grandmother Ann Nielsen was the first Danish Maid, “unofficially” the hostess for the 1961 celebration. The Danish Maid became an official position in 1967 with Anne Jensen Fielding.

Gabrielle will preside over this year’s Danish Days, which marks its 81st anniversary with a three-day weekend that celebrates Solvang’s Danish heritage with authentic food, music, dancing, parades, live entertainment and family activities.

Gabrielle’s hand-made Danish Maid dress is inspired by traditional wedding gowns from 1750 to the 1900s. Her dress will be a traditional black and red, inspired by her mother, Betina Heron, who was also Danish Maid in 1988.

“I loved working on coming up with the design of the dress and incorporating my mom and my grandmother’s pieces for the dress,” she said.

The weekend festival has several activities that Heron loves participating in, ranging from walking Friday evening in the Torchlight Parade from Alisal to the Midgaard Pavilion Stage for the opening ceremonies, to the aebleskiver-eating contest (Gabrielle’s best is five in one sitting) and making the aebleskiver breakfast for the throngs of people every morning with her family.

“Those are some of the best memories of my life, is being with my family making sausage and aebleskiver and visiting with locals and tourists that come through the line,” Heron said.

Preparing for Danish Days has been coinciding with her transition from high school to college as she spent her summer working at Nielsen’s Market and she started at Biola University on Aug. 28. She has a plan to major in mathematics and get her teaching credential to become a math teacher.

“I was an academic mentor and it just seemed like it was my calling to be a teacher. I am a leader in my church youth group and I love volunteering and helping people,” she said.