By order of a royal declaration dating
back nearly a century, Denmark celebrates America's Independence Day in an
annual holiday known as Rebild Fest. It is the only foreign nation to do
so. This year's celebration promises to be one of history's grandest,
according to the Royal Danish Embassy in Washington, D.C., because it will
also commemorate Denmark's liberation by the Allies on May 5, 1945.
"It is certain to be an
unprecedented celebration," said a spokesperson for the Sons of
Denmark (a Danish-American fraternity). Plans for the 1995 Rebild Fest,
confirmed in April, indicate that Lloyd Bentsen, an American of Danish
descent and formerly a vice presidential candidate, treasury secretary, and
senator for Texas, will represent America at this year's festival. Princess
Benedikte is expected to speak on behalf of Denmark's royal house.
four-day festival actually commences on July 1 in Aalborg, an ancient
shipping city in the north Jutland peninsula, and Rebild, a forested park
forty kilometers inland. Thousands of American visitors, many hoping to
reacquaint themselves with their Danish roots, will begin to converge on
the sites from hotels in the surrounding hills and villages. Then, on July
2, the Danish and American branches of the Rebild Society will meet at Rebild
American and Danish schools will cooperatively hold public exhibitions of
Danish and American culture. "Brigham Young University in Utah has
been helpful in planning cultural and colonial-era events," says Sven
Nicolaisen, a D.C.-area architect and vice president of the American Rebild
Committee. These are often impromptu exhibitions and ceremonies. According
to Nicolaisen, "Native American dances and folk dancing [will]
bill Rebild Fest as the largest single celebration of America's
Independence, even dwarfing those within the States. "It was begun by
Max Henius, a Dane who immigrated to the United States around 1895 but who
returned in 1912 to find his roots," explains Niels Selling,
secretary-general of the Rebild National Park. "With other Danes he
purchased undeveloped forested land in these hills and deeded it to King
Christian X, asking him, on behalf of the royal house, to preserve it in
its natural state so that the U.S. Independence Day could be celebrated by
Danes. It has stayed so ever since, the Fourth of July being celebrated
every year except during the German occupation." Indeed, in 1946,
forty-five thousand gathered to celebrate the first Rebild Fest of the
of the Rebild Fest
For the past twenty years, the U.S. Air Force band from Wiesbaden, Germany,
has appeared in the quaint city of Aalborg for a series of concerts
commencing at the Hvide Hus (White House) Hotel on July 3. Also at the
hotel, Aalborg's mayor honors an American of Danish roots by appointing him
"mayor of the day." Usually, the keynote American speakers--last
year they were Attorney General Janet Reno and the American ambassador to
Denmark--participate in most of the day's functions and dinners, including
the annual initiations into the King Christian IV Guild.
beneath Jens Bang House (across the street from Budolfi Church in Aalborg)
in a 1624 wine cellar constructed of bricks that form classic arches,
dignitaries and royalty are inducted into a guild established during World
War II. Now linked with the Rebild Fest, the guild is a tribute to
international commerce and freedom of expression. Commerce is celebrated
because Christian IV, whose motto, Piety Reforms the Realms, helped transform
Copenhagen from a medieval town to a center of European trade in the 1600s;
freedom is honored because the wine cellar served as a secret center of
expression, via a press, which remained undiscovered by the Gestapo.
dawn's early light on the Fourth, the usually desolate hills of Rebild have
taken on a calm air of anticipation. At 8:00 a.m. in Aalborg, a
service--with a full color guard from the Danish and American armed
services--commemorates the Allied liberation of 1945 at the Tomb of the
a 9:00 a.m. interdenominational service at Aalborg Cathedral, there is
another initiation at the wine cellar for those who could not be included
the previous day. Then a caravan of several hundred travels the one-hour drive
south and descends on Rebild to join the thousands gathering from all
corners of the globe.
the morning progresses, a circus-sized tent not far from the Log Cabin
American Museum serves a luncheon to guests of honor. Last year, five
hundred participated. During this two-hour affair, a festive atmosphere of
song and dance is punctuated by toasts, even from royalty, as people
approach the podium to donate money and become lifetime members of the
2:00 p.m., deep in a natural amphitheaterlike valley--with thousands
sitting on the hillsides--the dignitaries take their seats at a temporary
stand. A poignant silence resounds: Some have said that even the forest's
abundant songbirds still their voices. A replica of the Liberty Bell is
rung, and Rebild Fest is declared officially open.
an invocation by the bishop of Aalborg, a huge Danish flag is hoisted to
the accompaniment of the Danish national anthem. Then an equally impressive
Stars and Stripes is hoisted as the Air Force band induces the thousands to
sing the "Star-Spangled Banner." The two flags, approximately
twenty by forty feet in size, require twelve soldiers each to raise.
Following introductions by the president of the Rebild Society, representatives
of the Danish and American governments take the podium to speak. Throughout
the afternoon, folk, classical, military, and modern music blend
unpretentiously to please most musical palates.
4:00 p.m., the festival in Rebild draws to a close, but celebration
continues with renewed fervor in Aalborg. Many of the ensuing ceremonies
are cosponsored by the Aalborg Chamber of Commerce. Ceremonies include a
torchlight concert behind the White House Hotel and another round of
invocations by guest speakers at a dinner, during which the keys to Aalborg
are presented to the mayor of the day.
year, Hakon Andersen, owner of Andersen's Nursery near Los Angeles,
received the honor for his contribution toward Danish-American cooperative
culture and commerce. "I brought many young people over from Denmark
for a year," said the 71-year-old entrepreneur, "to teach them
our business and for them to teach Americans about Denmark."
Margrethe often is the featured Danish speaker," says Jens Otto Mose,
Maryland's preeminent Dane according to Tim McNamara, Baltimore's knighted
Danish consul. "Except when it was impossible to do so, there has
always been someone at Rebild on the Fourth with a message from the U.S.
president," he adds, explaining that generally an American battleship
docks in Aalborg to host a state dinner.
In a July 4, 1994, telephone interview, Selling hurriedly described the
scene even as the "Star Spangled Banner" competed in the background.
"It is so nice. Janet Reno is about to speak, and the princess will
follow. Right now, I am hearing your Air Force band playing."
to Jyllandposten, an Aalborg local newspaper, ten thousand celebrants from
all over the world had gathered on an unusually hot morning to celebrate.
In previous years, the celebration had been marred by relatively peaceful
protests against Danish domestic or American foreign policy. This was
especially evident in the 1983 celebration when Vice President George Bush
was heckled by a small group of students protesting his past activities as
CIA director. Media attention is easily accessed because Rebild Fest is an
open forum where representatives of the Danish and American governments
converge. In 1994, a Jyllandposten journalist noted: "This is the
first time in many years that Rebild Fest was entirely a joyful day without
a single disruptive protest."
the traditional opening ceremonies, keynote speaker Reno took the podium.
In her message, the attorney general reflected on her Danish ancestry. Upon
immigrating to America, Reno's Danish father thought the family name,
Rasmussen, sounded a little awkward. Looking at a U.S. map, he found a city
in Nevada that began with the letter R, hence the name Reno. The attorney
general spoke of a world community, virtually without borders, learning to
coexist during a time of unprecedented global migration: "I vividly
remember the wafting aroma of Danish coffee as [her grandmother] spoke
soothing words to me. For me, the Danish people will always represent
kindness and a concern for the general welfare of all people."
went on to describe the Danish underground's work during World War II,
getting Jews out of occupied Denmark into neutral Sweden. "This
[Danish] history of justice for all serves as an example for the world, and
I am proud of my Danish ancestry," she continued. "As America's
attorney general, I must calmly seek justice for everyone regardless of
race or religion. I consider this the paramount mission of my life."
the festival, Reno visited her extended family in Odense, the Danish
community of her ancestry. But according to Berlingske Tidende, a
Copenhagen newspaper, there had been some doubt as to the possibility of
Reno's appearance, because of conflicting Justice Department priorities.
Apparently, President Clinton had wanted her to remain in Washington to
work on the Brady gun bill being debated in Congress last July.
Fortunately, the U.S. ambassador to Denmark, Edward Elson, was able to
persuade the president and attorney general of the importance of Rebild
Fest: "Several thousand Danes are expected to travel to the remote
park to celebrate America's Independence, in the largest Fourth of July
celebration outside the United States," he argued.
in his address, brought a warm greeting to Rebild Fest celebrants from
President Clinton. Reno's Danish counterpart, Minister of Justice Erling
Olsen, responded on behalf of the Danish government: "America's
celebration of its independence has significance far beyond America. It is
an important landmark for all civilized nations to look toward."
her address, Princess Benedikte spoke of the nearly 300,000 Danes who have
become Americans: "It is my humble duty to preserve this Danish
tradition of celebrating America's independence, which was precisely why
Max Henius led an organization of Danish Americans to acquire this Rebild
Park and deed it to the royal house.
this coming year, Denmark will be more closely tied with the rest of Europe
[by the Maastricht Treaty]," she continued. "To bring about
prosperity by nourishing our ties with the USA is not a sign of
weakness--on the contrary. But this has not been understood by everyone.
Rebild's intent cannot survive on the basis of nostalgia alone. The younger
generation of Denmark and America must be motivated toward responsibility
and strength as a community among our native lands. ... It is a true
delight to see our youth and elders entering into an accord here at this
that spirit, I fondly remember attending the 1972 Rebild Fest while
studying at the Folk University of Copenhagen. Danny Kaye, on an overcast
day that perhaps foreshadowed a presidency about to be washed out or the
recent passing of King Frederick IX, delivered a compelling letter from
Richard Nixon. With a small Vietnam protest taking place in the background
(Denmark was a refuge for Vietnam War deserters in the early 1970s), Queen
Margrethe cheered America as an unwavering bastion of liberty through so
much world conflict.