Why are Danes so obsessed with flying the Danish flag?

The red and white flag is widely used in Denmark for birthdays, funerals – and practically everything in between.

In Denmark the Danish flag, called the Dannebrog, makes a frequent appearance – to say the least.

One of the most popular uses is to decorate birthday cakes and buns with small paper flags.

Other uses include painting the Danish flag on the faces of fans of the national soccer team. Sewing it on backpacks for journeys abroad. Hanging it on the Christmas tree along with other decorations. Or raising it over allotment gardens at weekends.

A symbol of happiness
This is confusing for many internationals who associate flag-bearing with patriotism or nationalism. In fact, Danes do not perceive the Dannebrog though this lens, but see their flag as a symbol of celebration and joy.

This perspective is reinforced in Danish custom. From a very young age, Danes use their flag on every festive occasion.

“For birthdays and other joyful events, the Danish flag is used as a symbol of happiness. At the other end of the scale, when flown at half-mast for funerals, the flag symbolises mourning and helps people cope with the loss of a loved one,” says Torben Kjersgaard Nielsen, a historian at Aalborg University in Denmark and author of a book on the Danish flag, on Denmark.dk.

No laws regulate its use
Danes likely fly their national flag more than people in most other countries. One reason for this is that no laws – only guidelines – regulate the use of the most common version of the Danish flag.

A flag law was discussed in the early 20th century, but there was no political majority for it. Today, it would be impossible, Kjersgaard Nielsen says:

“The Danish flag has been used by the general population for a very long time, and then you can’t suddenly start regulating. People wouldn’t back it. When I give presentations, I meet very few people who want to limit the use of the flag. Instead, they want it to be used in more and more ways.”

READ ALSO: Dannebrog’s got company: Supreme Court rules that all national flags can be raised in Denmark

The flag that fell from the sky
In 1219, legend has it, the Danish flag fell from heaven during a battle in present-day Estonia, helping the Danish army to an unexpected victory.

This early account (dubious as it sounds) makes the Dannebrog the oldest flag in the world still used by an independent country.

Still today, in many homes in Denmark, parents tell their children the legend of how the Danish flag came about.

“When parents in Denmark tell their children the legend of the flag, they become part of a tradition of people who have told this story for centuries. This is delightful and reassuring,” Kjersgaard Nielsen concludes.