of Growing Up - My Danish Heritage
By Axel Boilesen, January
When asked about my memories of growing up
on a farm in Nebraska in an area known for its Danish heritage,
with neighboring towns called Dannebrog and Dannevirke, I proudly
tell everyone that all my grandparents immigrated from Denmark.
The only one of these grandparents that I
knew or felt close to was my Dad's mother. Her husband and I share
the same name, Axel Christian Boilesen, and he died many years
before I was born.
My grandmother died in 1934 when I was eleven
years old. Considering the large families it is amazing to me
how close a bond I feel with her. Maybe it was the good cookies
or sugar cubes that were always available. More likely it was
the love and attention she gave me.
I'll always remember how she held me when
she sat in her rocking chair with me on her lap and we listened
to her phonograph playing "The Jolly Coppersmith". She
was a little lady (her feet would hardly reach the floor) and
she always spoke in Danish. I had no idea what she was saying
so I faked responses. When we listened to the phonograph we both
enjoyed the moment. If my grandmother spoke to me while I was
on her lap and we were listening to the phonograph I think the
phonograph saved me from any embarrassment.
The Danish people have been said to be the
happiest nationality in the world. One reason they have this reputation
is that they have such low expectations (that's a joke).
My observations of why they may rank so high
are that it is a small country, with low immigration, and with
education all paid for by the government as are all health care
expenses. Taxes are high but the average net income is very equal
which I think equates to contentment (happiness). A primary reason
for high emigration rates from many European countries was jobs.
As the families reached or approached maturity jobs became a consideration.
Inheritance customs in farming operations were that the oldest
male in the family inherited the farm and the younger members
had to fend for themselves. I don't know that this was the reason
why my grandfather immigrated to the United States and came to
Nebraska in the 1880's and I never heard my Dad or my Mom talk
about this but I imagine it was the promise of jobs and land and
June 5th is considered Denmark's Independence
Day and for all of the Danish communities in our area it was a
day the Danish flag was flown. When I was growing up on the farm
all field work stopped and we would congregate at the small village
of Dannevirke. A ballgame was usually scheduled for the afternoon
followed by a large picnic and dance held in the community building.
I have no idea what year those June 5th celebrations
may have ceased in Dannevirke but it is still a day I fondly remember.
For years I have continued to celebrate June 5 and each year I
find joy in writing a letter and a check to each of my children
and grandchildren. It is a personal feeling of independence that
I hope to continue as long as I am able.
I consider myself a "Happy Dane"
but who would not be as happy with such a great family - I love
Danish postcard postmarked
December 25, 1923 - the year of Axel's birth
Glædelig Jul !- Danish
for Merry Christmas!
Lutheran Church, built in 1906
History of Dannevirke
Courtesy of Nebraska State Historical Society
website, August 1996)
Dannevirke by Arthur W. Christensen of Dannebrog,
in A Story of the Danish Settlement in Dannevirke, describes
the early settlement of this unique Danish hamlet in Howard County.
In February of 1874 Niels Hansen and Soren
Johnson homesteaded in northwestern Howard County because of timber
and water along the North Loup River and because of the promising
soil. Hansen helped with construction of nearby Fort Hartsuff
to acquire cash, and in the spring of 1874 broke the first sod
in the Dannevirke area.
More Danes settled during succeeding years
and decided upon the name "Dannevirke." The name, symbolizing
security and protection, had patriotic significance to the Danes,
because it referred to a great earthen fortification which had
protected Denmark in the Middle Ages.
By 1900 the thrifty Danish farmers felt they
could afford a meeting place. They organized the Dannevirke Hall
Association and erected the center, dedicated in May 1901. Another
boost for the community was the opening of a general store in
1901. Five years later a church was built and later a blacksmith
shop was opened. However, the settlement remained a hamlet. The
post office was discontinued in 1904.
The founders of the community were successful
in establishing Danish customs and maintaining the language. Each
June 5 they celebrated Constitution Day, and a harvest festival
was held every September. Eventually, however, the isolated Danish
hamlet succumbed to the pressures of assimilation. Dannebrog and
Nysted, to the south, had larger populations with which to preserve
Miscellaneous Danish facts
Happy Birthday in Denmark - In Denmark
you may find that people thank you for the weather on your birthday.
It is said that the weather on your special day reflects your
behavior over the past year.
Hygge is a Danish and Norwegian word
for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings
of wellness and contentment.
The word hygge comes from a Danish word meaning
"to give courage, comfort, joy".
In both Danish and Norwegian, hygge refers
to "a form of everyday togetherness", "a pleasant and highly valued
everyday experience of safety, equality, personal wholeness and
a spontaneous social flow". The noun hygge includes something
nice, cozy, safe and known, referring to a psychological state.
Collins English Dictionary defines the word as "a concept,
originating in Denmark, of creating cosy and convivial atmospheres
that promote well-being". - Courtesy
The Danish concept – said to make homes nicer
and people happier. Pronounced ‘hoo-ga’, this is the Danish coined
phrase that can be translated simply as ‘cosiness’ in English.
But it’s much more than that, say its aficionados – it’s an entire
attitude to life that helps Denmark to be the world’s happiest
country. Sitting by the fire on a cold night, wearing a wooly
jumper, whist drinking mulled wine – probably surrounded by candles.
That’s most certainly “hygge”. Eating home-made pastries. Watching
TV under a duvet. Family get-togethers at Christmas, they are
too. It was never meant to be translated, but to be felt! - Courtesy
Descendants of Chris and Elizabeth (Jensen)
Boilesen gathered at the Danish Bakery in Dannebrog May 23, 2015
for a Memorial Day reunion. Visitations of the Dannebrog, Dannevirke,
Cotesfield, Elba, St. Paul, Scotia, and Ord cemeteries, the Dannevirke
church and the historical village in St. Paul filled the day
with memories and appreciation of our Danish heritage.
- 1849 Danish
Holiday - The signing of the Danish constitution in
1849. Each year Axel and Betty Boilesen celebrated this holiday
and remembered their Howard County Nebraska roots which included
picnics, ballgames and dances in Dannevirke Nebraska.
Family home of Johanna Schack
near Hoptrup, Denmark, circa 1887.
Pictured are Johanna's stepmother
Anna, her father, and a boy on the right who is their foster child.
View a few photos of Axel's parents and
siblings in Axel's
Siblings - The Chris Boilesen Family Album