Flag of Denmark

Danish flag history: Your guide to the flag of Demark

Are you familiar with the flag of Denmark? If you know your geography, you might be comfortable citing the colors of the Danish flag (red and white).

You can probably envision the design in your mind. Maybe you even know the name of that Nordic cross Denmark uses (Dannebrog). 

But do you know what makes the Danish flag so special?

Like most Scandinavian flags, the flag of Denmark has a rich back story. At first glance, the flag might look like another example of the various similar-looking flags throughout Scandinavia. 

However, the Danish flag may be one of the oldest in history. It also happens to have a fantastic story connected with it, which is worth learning if you love Denmark.

Today, we’re going to take you on a behind the scenes tour of the Danish flag. 

Read on for everything you need to know about the Danish flag colors, its history, and how locals continue to celebrate the design today. 

Facts about the Danish national flag

Let’s start simple. 

The flag of Denmark, otherwise known as the Dannebrog, has a bright red background and a white Scandinavian cross. The Scandinavian or Nordic cross appears all over the Scandinavian map, as well as in regions elsewhere in the world too. 

The red and white design of the Danish flag makes it one of the most consistent designs of any country. Though no one can determine who designed the Danish flag we do know roughly when it first appeared. 

The Dannebrog first appeared as a crusade banner in the 1219 war. The crusade was against the Estonians (who weren’t Christians). 

  • Colors: Red and white (there’s even a color called Dannebrog red).
  • Name: The red flag, Danish cloth, or Dannebrog.
  • Defining feature: The Nordic cross.
  • Original design date: 1219.
  • Alternatives: Royal flags, Greenland flag, and flag of the Faroe Islands.
  • Dimensions: 3:1:3 in width.

Some locations throughout Denmark also embrace unofficial flags. In the 1970s, the flag of Bornholm appeared, featuring a red background and green cross. 

Other unofficial Danish flags include:

  • Flag of Ærø: Tricolor red, yellow, and green flag.
  • Flag of Vendsyssel: Nordic cross in green with an orange outline on a blue background.
  • Flag of Jutland: Nordic cross in red on a green banner with blue stripes.

Just like most countries, Denmark has a variety of special days when the country will fly the national flag. We’ll cover some of those days later in this article. 

Interestingly, the capital city of Denmark, Copenhagen, doesn’t have its own flag. While other countries throughout Scandinavia use individual flags for different cities, this isn’t common in Denmark. 

The capital city simply displays the Dannebrog as its own flag. It’s commonly placed in various locations around the town.

Flag of Denmark

Danish flag History: Origin of the Danish flag

The history of the Danish flag makes it one of the most interesting national cloths in Scandinavia. It’s rare to see a country that loves the flag more than Denmark. Wherever you go, you’ll find people hanging the flag outside of their windows, in their garden, and even on their Christmas trees.

Part of what makes the flag of Denmark so special is its story. Though experts remind us there’s no way of knowing which legends are true, the story of the Danish flag is in the heart of every Dane. 

The story begins in 1219, though the legend originally appeared in the 16th century. According to the tale, Valdemar II of Denmark, (Vald the Victorious), was leading a campaign in the region now known as Estonia. The accounts recorded by Petrus Olai say the battle wasn’t going well.

For a time, the Danes were convinced they would lose the battle. However, the Danish Bishop, Anders Sunesen wasn’t ready to give up. He stood atop of a hill overlooking the battle and prayed to God. As he prayed, the Danes began to regain their strength. 

When the Bishop raised his arms, the Danes rushed forward, and the Estonians fell back. Eventually, Anders Sunesen was so tired he allowed his arms to drop, and the Danes once again lost the advantage. 

Using two soldiers to help keep his arms up, Anders continued the fight, and the Dannebrog apparently fell from the sky in a miraculous moment. 

King Valdemar picked up the cloth and showed it to his troops. Apparently, their hearts were suddenly filled with strength and courage, allowing them to push forward and eventually win the battle. 

This story might seem a little dramatic, but it’s something the Danish feel very strongly about. The tale of the Dannebrog is a matter of local pride, and something other countries have tried to replicate over the years. 

There’s a tale about the Swedish flag which mimics the Danish legend very closely. In this story, the Swedes say a golden cross appeared in the sky during one of their battles.

The history of the Danish flag: Colors and age

Whether you agree with the legend of the Dannebrog or not, most historians agree the flag is definitely over 800 years old. Experts believe the flag first appeared in the 1200s, which make the design one of the oldest continuously used flags in the world. 

Though the shape of the cross has changed slightly through the centuries, the image remains mostly the same.

To confirm the true origins of the Danish flag, and how long it’s used the red and white colors, many historians have dug through relics of the past. 

There are a handful of pieces of evidence which may indicate the Danish fact has remained the same for centuries. The Geire Amorial (rom 1340-1370) depicts a banner similar to the modern Dannebrog along with the coat of arms for the Danish king. 

There’s also a depiction of the image in a 15th century book about coats of arms, now available in the National Archives of Sweden. 

Several seals, coins, and images exist, both demotic and foreign, showing signs similar to the Danneberg along with the royal banner of Sweden (3 blue lions on a golden shield). 

The Swedish flag has also been used as a maritime flag since the 16th century and appeared in the Danish army regimental barracks from 1785. 

If the Danish flag does go back to the 1200s, then the only other flag that shares a similar age is the Scottish Saltire of St Andrew. However, there are arguments saying the cross of St Andrew existed only in different colors. 

Interestingly, though the Danish flag may be one of the oldest in the world, it hasn’t always been accessible. For most of the flag’s history, it was a symbol of the military and royal family. It wasn’t until around 1854 when Danish locals were permitted to use the flag themselves. 

One point to note is the Danish flag as we know it today might not have always been Danish. Throughout the European crusades in the 11th to 13th centuries, a red flag featuring a white cross often appeared during battles, but there wasn’t a connection to Denmark.

What is the meaning of the Danish flag?

The national flag of Denmark is well known throughout the world. The classic combination of the white cross on the red background makes this cloth very memorable. The Nordic cross on this flag appears on the side of the design closest to the flag hoist. 

So, what does the Danish flag stand for? Why are the colors of the Danish flag so important, and what does it all mean to the locals?

There’s no official definition of the Danish flag that provides it with a distinct meaning. However, the white cross appears to be a reference to Christianity, which is common with Scandinavian flags. 

The meaning behind the Danish flag comes from its legend, and the association it has to victory. The flag of Denmark reminds citizens they can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. 

White is a fantastic color which usually means purity, faith, and clarity. The traditional Christian cross against a red background makes a striking image. Red is often associated with strength and bravery — something the Danish have plenty of. 

Today, the Danish flag is an important symbol celebrated around the country. During birthday celebrations, national events, and at Christmas, the Danish flag appears as decoration. There are also special days throughout the year when the Danish people decorate with the Dannebrog. 

Some of the most common times to see the Danish flag include:

  • January 1st: New Year’s Day.
  • February 5th: The crown prince day.
  • February 6th: the day for Princess Marie.
  • April 9th: The day of the occupation of Denmark. 
  • April 16th: A day celebrating Queen Margrethe II.
  • April 29th: A day celebrating Princess Bendicte.
  • May 5th: The day of the liberation of Denmark.
  • May 26th: A day celebrating Crown Prince Federik.
  • June 5th: Constitution day.
  • June 7th: A day celebrating Prince Joachim.
  • June 11th: A day celebrating Prince Consort Henrik.
  • June 15th: This is the day when Valdemar apparently saw the flag appear from the heavens during the battle with Estonia. 
  • September 5th: Commemoration day for soldiers.
  • December 25th: Christmas day.

There are also a host of “military” days when Danish people may choose to fly the flag too. Plus, the church will frequently fly the flag on days like Good Friday, Whit Sunday, and Ascension Day.

Flying the Danish national flag: Rules

The Danish love the national flag, and demand for it to be treated with respect. 

Brimming with history, the Danish flag is something the locals are immensely proud of. Any effort to deface or disrespect the flag is taken very seriously. There are also various rules in place to protect the honor of the Danneberg

When raising the flag of Denmark, professionals have to be careful to ensure the material never touches the ground. The flag must hang in a certain way, and it should always be lowered at sunset. 

The locals believe flying the flag for too long into the night means you’re flying it for the devil. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this rule. 

You can potentially fly the Danish flag at night if you’re doing so in a well-lit space. You’ll also have to ensure the flag has pride of place above any other decorations. 

Other rules to follow when using the Denmark flag include:

  • When the flag starts to get worn or frayed it must be replaced immediately. A flag removed from use can be kept safely in storage, or ceremoniously burned with great respect. 
  • The flag of Denmark must always be raised first. If a leader from another country visits Denmark, and their flag needs to be shown, the Danish flag needs to appear first. The danish flag can also never share its pole with another flag. 
  • When using the flag during a state funeral (common in Denmark), there are special rules for how it can be used. The flag needs to rise very slowly at a funeral and be taken down again at the same speed. There are rules about how long the flag should stay down too.
  • When taking the flag down from a pole for safe storage, the white cross should be wrapped so it’s inside of the red cloth. 
  • To fly any other flag beside the Dannebrog in Denmark, you will need a special authorization certificate. The only exception to this rule is if you are flying other Scandinavian flags, such as those of Iceland, Finland, Sweden, or Norway. You may also fly the EU flag.
  • Split flags (the fork-shaped version) are only suitable for use by the royal family. Certain members of the armed forces and navy may also receive permission to use this.

The importance of the flag of Denmark today

You don’t need to look far to see evidence of how much the Danish love their flag. There’s even a rare breed of pig in the world today that specifically exists to celebrate the Danish flag. The Husum Red Pied, otherwise known as the Danish Protest pig originates from North Frisia. 

When Danes living in this area under Prussian rule were not allowed to display their Danish flag, they bred a pig allowing them to do this instead. The pig has a red color with a white vertical belt, representing the Danish flag. 

Today, the Danish flag still appears frequently throughout Denmark, used by state institutions, the royal family, and even just the general population. You’ll see this flag flying in a range of environments. 

One of the most popular uses of the Danish flag is as a decoration for birthdays. Danes will use mini versions of the flag on their cakes and in bunting too. 

While it’s common to use the Danish flag during times of celebration, it also appears at times during moments of sadness. Flown at half-mast for funerals, the flag of Denmark symbolizes a state of mourning, and helps to create a sense of community when people are coping with loss. 

Similar to the trends in other locations around the world, colors of the Danish flag often appear on the faces of locals when they’re supporting national soccer teams and other athletes. 

Many Danes sew versions of the flag onto their backpacks when they travel overseas and hang the flag on their Christmas tree alongside other decorations. 

On weekends, flags fly over gardens and allotments, and various companies use a printed version of the flag to prove their products are local. 

At first glance, the Danish flag might just look like any other Scandinavian flag. While the style is remarkably similar to what you’ll find in Sweden and Finland, that doesn’t make the Denmark flag any less appealing to the locals. 

People in Denmark consider their flag to be more than just an image. It’s a uniting symbol, and a sign to be proud of.

The amazing Denmark flag

There are few countries in the world that demonstrate just how valuable a simple flag can be like Denmark. The Danish people are extremely passionate about their country — and for good reason. Denmark is one of the most beautiful places in the world. 

It’s environmentally friendly, packed with things to do and see, and home to some of the best designers in the world

Everyone from Denmark seems to be exceedingly proud of their heritage. That’s something rare to see in the modern world. Danish people probably use the national flag more than people in other countries do. 

One of the reasons for this is there are no laws regulating the way you use the flag for decorative purpose — simply basic guidelines. You do need to show the flag respect. 

Although the country may want to add more regulation now, experts say it would be exceedingly difficult to do so. The flag has been something the general public has used for so long at this point it’s extremely tough to suddenly apply regulation. 

Hopefully, you now feel like an expert in all things associated with the flag of Denmark. You can go and speak to people in Denmark all about their fantastic flag, and even fly the flag proudly if you’re part-Danish. 

If you want to learn more about the flags of Scandinavia, or Denmark as a country, make sure you check out our other articles at Scandification. 

Scandification: Discovering Scandinavia.

Now read these:
The history of the Swedish flag
Guide to the Scandinavian flags
What the Nordic cross symbolizes
What is Denmark famous for?

Scandification explores and celebrates the magic of Scandinavia. Stay tuned and we’ll bring the essence of Scandinavia to you.

Advertising enquiries

Scandification explores and celebrates the magic of Scandinavia. To advertise your brand to a global audience, contact our advertising team below.