Something about the Danish flag and why we use it so much…

This is a very long post. Ye be warned. ;-)

It’s my birthday on Monday and Tony’s family is coming here on Sunday. We are going to have.. an approximation of a traditional Danish birthday – like the ones I remember from when I was little. Well, my family’s tradition – I can’t promise that every Danish family does the same thing. So if you’re invited to a Danish birthday and it isn’t like this, well, don’t come crying to me, m’kay? ;-)

We’ll have lunch first. A sitting-at-the-table lunch. Not just with our plates in our laps. So weird. I can’t make a ‘proper’ Danish lunch, because most of the food you’d eat is stuff I don’t like. Like liver pate, cold meats and pickled herring. But I have found some decent rye bread. So, that’s good. Rye bread is really nice with sliced hardboiled eggs with lots of pepper and a bit of salt.

In the afternoon we’ll have warm cocoa with whipped cream. And homemade buns and a cake decorated with icing and sweeties. In the shape of a person. You cut the neck and all the kids scream. ;-)

By now maybe you are wondering what, if anything, this post has got to do with the picture? Well, lots, actually!

I am making some Danish flags to put on the cake or the buns- haven’t quite decided yet. That’s what you do in Denmark. Got a birthday? Wedding? Anniversary? Whatever? We’ll stick a flag in a cake or decorate with it in other ways. And if you’re coming home from abroad, it is not uncommon to see family and/or friends greeting you at arrivals waving little paper Danish flags.

To foreigners this may seem really weird. In some countries the national flag is a symbol of the state and what does that have to do with little Timmy’s birthday or your grandparents’ anniversary?

I sometimes spend too much time thinking about things and why they are the way they are. Especially since living in England and experiencing how lots of things are different. And the flag thing is one of those things I think about.

I can’t find a proper answer to why we Danes use the flag, Dannebrog, in all the non-state-symbol ways that we do. It doesn’t just extend to flags on cakes or as party decorations. Football (proper football where touching the ball with your hands is a no-no!) fans dress up as the flag, paint their faces to look like Dannebrog and wear hats with it.

People who have ‘allotments’ often have a flag pole in the garden as do a a lot of home owners. The flag is flown for occasions such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, confirmations, special days to do with the royal family and funerals. And probably more that I am forgetting.

Of course, there are also people who try to appropriate the flag for political reasons, mainly ‘parties’ on the extreme right. Just like the St George’s Cross here in England; for years many people have associated it with the extreme right, to such a degree that displaying it could be taken as an affront to foreigners.

This hasn’t happened in Denmark, fortunately. The use of the flag isn’t associated with nationalism. Except by a minority of people. People, who, ironically, stand for everything most people do not want to be associated with.

My theory of all this flag using is this: it is more a symbol of tribe or community than of State. There may be historical reasons that have reinforced the use, such as wars in the 1800s and certainly WWII, when Denmark was occupied by our neighbour to the south. It became a symbol of defiance then.

So, our use of Dannebrog says, we are Danish, we belong to the Danish tribe. I guess you could say it is a celebration of community. Despite our differences, there is stuff that connects us, where we are similar. The flags at the airport say welcome home, but also welcome back to your tribe.

And to me, at least, it isn’t saying ‘we are Danish and you are not’. It is inclusive. You can be part of the tribe too, if you fancy. An exclusive club where everyone is welcome. I put the Danish flag on the table for my birthday, naturally. But also for Tony’s birthday. He is part of my tribe now, obviously, and that is a symbol of that.

I am not sure if all this is making sense – but there we are, I never promised anyone that this blog would make sense! ;-)

Anyway. If anyone needs some Danish cake flags, I’m happy to supply you with a handy sheet of flags ready to print. They won’t look exactly like the ones in the picture. I realised that I’d gotten the proportions all wrong… All you’d have to do is cut them out and glue around a cocktail stick. :-)

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  1. April 23, 2010 / 10:31 am

    Thanks for an interesting story about how flags are used in Denmark and England. In case you're interested here in Russia the flag can only be hanged on governmental buildings and on governmental holidays only.

    ~Have a wonderful birthday party!!!

  2. April 23, 2010 / 3:29 pm

    Yes.. I wish I could say to you 'oh no, the Swedish flag is pretty too'… but I just ain't diggin' the colour combination. ;-) I have seen the crochet flags, but tack for the link. :-)

  3. April 23, 2010 / 4:25 pm

    We went to Denmark for a holiday a couple of years ago and loved seeing the flag everywhere. We bought home lots. Its just such a cool simple flag that looked amazing against the huge blue skies. We really liked the long skinny version that was almost like streares or ribbons.

  4. April 24, 2010 / 12:02 pm

    Jeg vil kippe ekstra med Dannebrog på mandag – jeg håber du får en vidunderlig dansk fødselsdag.

    Vi bruger virkelig flaget meget herhjemme. Dit indlæg får mig til at tænke på små kolonihaver med vajende rød hvide flag i flagstangen. Vi har også i min familie brugt flaget meget til ganske særlige dage…dage hvor en savnet person vender hjem, hvor et særligt mål eller ønske er opnået, når fødselsdagsbarnet synges op af sengen…

    Jeg synes også at det danske flag kommer til at betyde noget helt specielt når man bor udenfor Danmark. I al den tid jeg boede i London, var det endnu mere nær hjertet.

    Til slut må jeg også rose dig for formidabelt arbejde – endnu en gang. Dine Spoonflower designs er intet mindre end fantastiske. :))

  5. April 24, 2010 / 3:19 pm

    Tusind tak skal du have, Ulla! :-)

    Mine forældre bruger også deres flag ved andre lejligheder. Det er da så hyggeligt! ;-)

    Vi var i Danmark sidste år da det var min søsters 30 års fødselsdag, og vi hejste flaget selv om både min søster og mine forældre var i USA!

  6. April 28, 2010 / 7:37 pm

    Nice story about your flag! It si so interesting your feeling about it is inclusive and you are part of a tribe, and that we can part of this tribe.

  7. April 28, 2010 / 8:30 pm

    HI Carina – I recently found your blog, and been loving checking out your posts. Thanks for all the goodness you share with us :)

    Love the topic of the flag. Am French and lived in the US for the past 8 years, but moved to Denmark (my husband is Danish) last December. And through it all, it's just amazing to see that something as small as a flag can be "lived" in so many different ways. I have to say so far, Denmark wins hands down. In France only the government uses it, for French people are afraid of being associated with the nationalist party…. except for when we win soccer games, that's always the exception :) In the US…. well as much as I love the US… the way they use the flag is a bit of a "rub it in your face" patriotism, "we are american and you're not". So yes, the way Danish people use the flag is SO refreshing. No agenda behind it. Just a big "We're happy, we're celebrating with happy colors and you should join to". Gotta love that.
    Hugs, Audrey

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