The flags of the Nordic countries are surprisingly similar: sharing the same bold, earthy colours, a universal cross design, and mutual symbolism.
Find out more about the fascinating flag history of the region and learn about the history of the flags of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland.
The Nordic Cross Flag: Shared Origins
All Nordic flags can be traced to a universal ur-flag: the Nordic Cross flag (somtimes also known as the Scandinavian Cross).
The Nordic Cross flag is in a cross design, where the cross is closer to the hoist. They are usually in two strongly contrasting colours like red and white and blue and yellow.
Although the design is mostly associated with the Nordics and was first used by the Danes, the design has also been adopted worldwide.
There is also a religious, aspect to the Nordic Cross: when the flag is twisted sideways to the right a Christian cross materialises.
The Danish Flag: Oldest Flag In The World?
The Danish flag, a white cross towards the hoist on a red background, is called “Dannebrog” meaning “Danish Cloth”.
It is has been in use for centuries, and although the origins are convoluted, it is considered to be the oldest national flag in continuous use.
Of course there are banners and flags in the world that are older, however, they have not been in long continuous use for as long as the Dannebrog.
Origins Of Danneborg
There is a legend, familiar to most Danes, about the origins of the Dannebrog. It dates back to 1219 and the crusade of King Valdermar against the Estonians. The Danes were on the backfoot against the Estonian army and the outcome seemed bleak.
That is until a Danish bishop started praying to God for help, and as if in answer to his prayers, the Dannebrog fell from the sky. The sudden appearance of the flag filled the soldiers with courage and the Danes were victorious.
It has also been claimed that the Dannebrog is merely a copy of the flag used by the Holy Roman Empire: a white cross on a red background. This was the flag the Empire used on its crusades and as its war flag.
Love For The Danish Flag
In contrast to other countries where people are more are careful about using their national flag, the Danes are the opposite.
Instead of seeing the national flag as a symbol of blatant nationalism, the Danes see their flag more as a cause for celebration. The Dannebrog can be seen everywhere, and any excuse to fly the flag is made the most of.
Households will often have a flagpole in their back garden, waiting for the red and white to be flown. On birthdays, a cake might be embellished with small Dannebrogs, and on special occasions, buses will have miniature flags on display.
However this freedom to fly the flag has not always been around: it was not until 1854 that the flag was officially sanctioned to private use.
Heritage Colours of the Norwegian Flag
Since Norway has been in various unions with the Danes and the Swedes over the centuries, it is no surprise that the colours of the Norwegian flag, a red background with a white cross towards the hoist, and within this cross another blue cross, celebrate this shared heritage.
If the colours of the flag are examined closer, the flag looks like the Danish flag with the inner blue cross coming from the Swedes.
Norwegians also used the Danish flag as their national flag for a period of time.
The Norwegian Flag and Independence
The current flag was designed in 1821 by Fredrik Meltzer and in Norwegian it is called “Norges flagg”.
As in the case of many countries, Norwegian independence struggles were spurred on by the drawing of a national flag.
However, when it comes to gaining independence there was a long road from the national flag to independence, which was finally achieved in 1905.
The flag was an important stepping stone towards Norway becoming an independent nation. Although a lofty comparison, the acceptance of the flag is not dissimilar to the drawing of the Norway’s constitution in 1814.
Desire for Ideals in Norwegian Flag
The Norwegian flag is not only similar to the Danish and Swedish flags, it has also taken influences from other countries in pursuit of its own grander ideals.
The desire to be a liberal state is evinced in the Norwegian colour choices: the chosen colours of red, white, and blue are often seen as colours of freedom, revolution, and liberal values.
The Icelandic Flag
The Icelandic flag, as with all the Nordics, has been influenced by the Nordic Cross (and Denmark).
The flag is called “islenski faninn”, and it has a blue background with a white cross towards the hoist and a red cross, derived from Denmark, within the white cross.
The colours of the flag have not been randomly chosen: they depict the various elements that stand out and make Iceland unique:
- The red on the flag represents the fire arising from Icelandic volcanoes
- The white on the flag symbolises the ice and the snow
- The blue depicts the Atlantic Ocean.
Iceland’s Flag & Its Independence
Although drawn in 1915, the Iceland flag was first accepted as the national flag in 1944 as Iceland became a republic as a young and independent nation.
The Icelandic flag is a culmination of the Icelandic struggle for independence: the country had been under the rule of the other Nordics for most of its existence.
As a young nation with few abhorrent deeds on the world stage, the flag is distinctly lacking in negative connotations.
There are rumours that the Icelandic people are thinking of designing a new flag to move away from the Christian connotations involved with the Nordic cross.
The people of Iceland take pride in their flag.
It is seen everywhere in the country, be it on football shirts, souvenir pillows, or outside churches and hotels.
There are twelve public holidays on which the flag must be flown, and the Icelandic people tend to do this readily and happily.
Patriotism is still relatively new in the country; the word for patriotism in Icelandic becomes “nation-mindedness” and “love of one’s country” in English.
The Finnish Flag: Simple Blue & White
Finland’s flag stands out from the other Nordics thanks to its simplicity and the colours used: simple blue and white that represent Finland.
The Finnish flag, commonly known as the “siniristilippu”, meaning “Blue Cross Flag”, is loyal to its name, being a flag with a white background and simple a blue cross towards the hoist.
In the Finnish flag, the white represents the snow found abundantly in Finland every winter. Blue represents the wonderful open blue sky and Finland’s many lakes (Finland is also known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Lakes’)..
History Behind The Colours of the Finnish Flag
This simple “Blue Cross Flag” was by no means the first form of flag used in Finland.
The most common flag used to be that of the Finnish coat of arms: a yellow lion, on a red background. Contrary to the colours we now associated with Finland, red and yellow became the unofficial national colours.
This all changed after the Finnish Civil War.
The civil war was fought between two opposing sides: the “Reds” and the “Whites”, and when the war was won by the “Whites” in 1918, a change in the national mentality occurred in Finland. A deep need for peace and reconciliation for the newly independent Finland led to the adoption of a more neutral and peaceful national flag.
Hence, fittingly, the adoption of the “Blue Cross”. The roots of the Finnish national flag can still be seen in the state flag, where a lion sits at the centre of the blue cross.
Hoisting the Finnish Flag
Even though the Finns are immensely proud of their flag there is great cautiousness in hoisting or using the flag unnecessarily.
However, there is a time of year, midsummer, when as the Finns celebrate the height of summer, they simultaneously celebrate the “Finnish Flag Day”.
On that special night the national flag can be flown through the night.
The Swedish Flag
The Swedish flag, called “Sveriges flagg” in Swedish, is also not particularly complicated, being a simple yellow cross design on a blue background.
The meaning behind the colours is rather more elaborate. The blue in the flag represents truth, vigilance, perseverance, loyalty, and justice, whereas the yellow represents generosity.
Origins of the Swedish Flag
As a country with a rich and varied history, it is no surprise that the origins of the colours of the Swedish flag are convoluted.
There is a legend, similar to the one behind the Danish flag, that during the Swedish Crusade in the 12th century, King Eric IX saw a golden cross in the blue sky. He interpreted this as a sign from God and made these colours the official colours of his banner.
A less appealing story behind the colours of the Swedish flag is simply that these are the colours seen on the Swedish coat of arms: three gold crowns on a blue background, dating back to the 14th century.
Though it is difficult to place a date on its exact origins, it is clear that the Swedish flag is centuries old. The current Swedish national flag was officially recognised in 1906.
Cautiousness with the Swedish Flag
Of course, like any nation, the Swedes are immensely proud of their flag
However, there is also a sense of cautiousness associated with the flag. The Swedes are careful of using the flag in any way that implies overt nationalism or patriotism.
Nonetheless Sweden has a day that implies the use of the flag. Formerly known as the “Swedish Flag Day”, nowadays called “The Swedish National day”, this is a time to use the flag freely without negative connotations and dwell in a warm feeling of healthy nationalism associated with “Sveriges flagg”.
Under One Nordic Flag United
It is clear that not only have all the Nordics adopted the Nordic Cross as their template, they have also taken influence from each other when it comes to the style and colours of their flags.
In many ways, the Nordics are intertwined with each other and the history of their flags is a history of the relationships between these Scandinavian and Nordic nations.