I’ve never seen a country that loves its flag as much as Denmark does – and that’s a big statement, coming from an American. But foreigners who come to Denmark can’t help but notice that the Danish flag is everywhere.
People love to fly Danish flags over their summer houses – the bigger the better. Christmas trees are decorated with little Danish flags. Cucumbers in the supermarket have Danish flags on the label to show they’re grown in Denmark. Whenever a member of the Danish royal family has a birthday, two little Danish flags are stuck on the front of every Copenhagen bus.
The Danish flag is closely associated with Danish birthdays. If you have a birthday when you’re working in a Danish office, one of your colleagues is likely to put a Danish flag on your desk. It means – happy birthday! You may see a birthday cake with tiny Danish flags stuck into it, or the Danish flag recreated in red frosting.
And if you’re invited to a party by a Danish friend – any kind of party – you may find paper Danish flags stuck into the ground to guide you to the right house.
The Danish flag is not really a statement of nationalism. It’s a statement of joy.
I’ve never seen anyone say anything negative about the Danish flag – until a couple of weeks ago.
Denmark has the oldest flag in the world
First, a little background. The Danish flag is the oldest flag in continuous use in the world. According to legend, it fell from the sky in 1219, during the Battle of Valdemar in Estonia.
If you go to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, you can visit the place where the Danish flag supposedly fell to Earth. The Estonians know a good tourist attraction when they see one.
The other Nordic flags – the Swedish flag, Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic, are all based on the Danish flag. They all have similar designs with a cross on a solid background.
And you are not allowed to fly any other flag in Denmark without special permission from the police. Someone flying the American flag in Jylland recently got a visit from the police after the neighbors complained. (That’s why I keep my American flag as refrigerator magnet where it belongs.)
The Danish flag is supposed to be something that unites Denmark.
Outdated logo looks like auto insurance
So it was a bit of a shock a couple of weeks ago when the FDF, which is kind of a Danish boy scouts or girl scouts organization, said they were thinking about removing the Danish flag from their logo.
They said the flag logo was too old-fashioned and nationalistic, and it wasn’t helping to attract the kids of today. That was a bit of a shocker.
Well, not the fact that the logo was outdated. It’s shaped like a shield. It looks like a sticker you’d put on your car to show it has car insurance.
I can see that kids of today wouldn’t be attracted by it. Not that the kids of today are attracted by anything that doesn’t have a screen and show YouTube.
Yet the idea that the Danish flag is nationalistic, and maybe even exclusionary, is new to Denmark. Granted, the flag is popular with right-wing parties. But it’s popular with everyone.
Basim did it best
The truth is, Denmark is changing. It’s becoming more international. One out of five babies born in Denmark today does not have an ethnic Danish mother.
That includes people like my kid, kids with mothers from other European countries, and also kids with moms from China, India, Africa, and the Middle East.
The question is, can the Danish flag represent them?
Personally, I think it can. One of my favorite Danish flag moments is when the young Danish-Moroccan singer Basim was performing at a national music contest – he’s a very upbeat and positive performer – and just at the peak of a really good song, a giant Danish flag dropped down behind him. It was a great moment.
A good designer design can make it fresh
Because it’s so simple, just two colors, the Danish flag is one of the most powerful and flexible symbols ever from a graphic design sense.
So seems to me that in a country full of gifted graphic designers, the FDF could commission a more contemporary logo that still uses the flag. Something that would appeal to kids.
That will take them through the next 20 years or so. The next big challenge will probably be that the flag has a big cross on it, in a country that less and less Christian.
But for the moment, I think we need to figure out ways to make clear that the Danish flag represents everyone in Denmark. After all, everyone has a birthday.
Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2018