In the 1870s, Danish immigrants began settling in Iowa, mostly in the southwestern region of the state in the towns of Elk Horn and Kimballton. According to Iowa Public Television, these communities are today home to more people of Danish heritage than any other rural area in the country. To celebrate their rich ancestry, Elk Horn and Kimballton hold two yearly Danish festivals complete with food, music and more.
Elk Horn and Kimballton, Iowa, are referred to as the "Danish Villages." The two towns are a little more than 100 miles to the east of Sioux City, Iowa, with populations of less than 1,000 each. In line with their Danish brothers across the ocean, Elk Horn and Kimballton are committed to working toward becoming model green communities based on practices used in Denmark. In addition, a drive or stroll through Elk Horn showcases buildings -- from movie theaters to hardware stores -- designed in the tradition of classic Danish architecture.
Tivoli Fest is held every May over Memorial Day weekend in Elk Horn. The two-day festival is full of activities and entertainment steeped in Danish traditions. Running day to night, Tivoli Fest features a parade, a bike ride, an outdoor concert, fireworks, a craft fair and a talent show. Traditional Danish and Scandinavian dancers also get the chance to show off their footwork. Of course, no festival would be complete without food, and the Tivoli Fest features plenty of options, including aebleskiver and medisterpolse, which is the Danish version of pancakes and sausage.
Elk Horn and Kimballton come together to throw Julefest every November. Julefest marks the official start to the Christmas season. More than 30 shops get dressed up and decorated for the festival and offer a unique array of Danish-inspired gifts. The three-day event includes a Christmas concert, horse and sleigh rides, craft sales and pancake supper. Visitors to Julefest can get a glimpse of Father Christmas walking through town while enjoying Danish cookies, glogg (mulled wine) and cheese.
Other Danish Attractions
The Danish Windmill is one of the most recognizable monuments in the Danish Villages. In 1976, Elk Horn raised $30,000 to bring the windmill over from Denmark. Originally built in 1848, it remains the only working and authentic Danish windmill in the United States. The windmill also serves as a museum and welcome center. Other attractions in the Danish Villages include an authentic Viking home, the Danish Immigrant Museum and the Bedstemor's House or Grandmother's House. Bedstemor's House is a historic home reflecting Danish life between 1910 and 1920. Kimballton also features the Little Mermaid statue based on Hans Christian Andersen's famous fairy tale.
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