Yfat Yossifor/The Bay City Times/AP
Fireworks display over the launch area Thursday, July 3, 2014, at Veterans Memorial Park in Bay City, Mich.

Why are Danes celebrating the Fourth of July?

To celebrate American independence, thousands of Danes have gathered annually at a scenic national park on a slope in Jutland – for more than 100 years. And it's not just expats who attend.

Every July 4, American expatriates across Europe gather in military bases and touristy bars to celebrate the red, white, and blue.

But in one locale in Denmark, it’s the Europeans – not the Americans – who are leading the patriotic charge.

Since 1912, thousands of Danes have congregated in a national park to picnic before Old Glory, listen to speeches from American dignitaries, watch fireworks, and sing favorites such as “Home on the Range” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” It’s called Rebildfesten, and organizers say it’s the largest – and perhaps the only – official celebration of the American holiday by foreigners.

The festival started in 1911, when a group of Danish-Americans – members of the Rebild Society, based in Illinois – purchased a hilly piece of land on the Danish peninsula of Jutland, revered for its beauty since the age of the Visigoths. They then gifted it to King Christian IX, on the condition that it remain natural and available for an annual American independence celebration.

Since the beginning, the festival has also been a homecoming celebration for Danish-Americans, many of whom still make the pilgrimage. A significant majority of the attendees, however, are Danes, which raises the question: Why do so many foreigners spend the day celebrating a US holiday?

“I think Danes to some extent are really like Americans in that a lot of people like a good party,” says Egon Bodtker, president of the Danish American Heritage Society. “It’s really just a nice day out.”

The festivities begin July 2, but the busiest day is July 4. Shortly after midnight, the fireworks begin, says Linda Steffensen, a serial Rebildfesten attendee and the editor of the Danish-American newspaper The Danish Pioneer.

The next day features a 600-person lunch and speeches by Danish and American celebrities and dignitaries. Malena Belafonte, a Danish-American singer, model, and actress, will be speaking this year, and past festivals have featured notables such as President Ronald Reagan and Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Afterward, the festival begins in earnest with Danish and American musicians entertaining picnickers into the evening. Recent years have even included folk and square dancing.

The festival isn’t always without controversy, however. In decades past, politics have interfered with the otherwise celebratory occasion.

“It can be a place where some Danes can register dismay,” says John Mark Nielsen, executive director of the Museum of Danish America in Blair, Neb., and a speaker at Rebildfesten in 2008.

“During the late 1960s and ‘70s and ‘80s, the Danes tended to be left of center, so there were concerns," he added. "There were protests during the cold war, particularly when Salvador Allende was overthrown in Chile, and [Gen. Augusto] Pinochet came to power.”

Still, he says, political matters are rarely at issue now, partially because the Danes admired President Bill Clinton and supported the NATO force in Afghanistan. Nowadays, almost all attendees are happy to simply enjoy the festivities, soak in the scenery, and be merry.

“It’s really quite beautiful from a natural standpoint, with steep, heather-covered hills,” Mr. Nielsen says. “So it’s just a great place for eating and speeches and music and song.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Why are Danes celebrating the Fourth of July?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today