Your Danish Post

An old flag celebrates its 800th birthday

Dannebrog officially fell from the sky on Valdemar’s day the 15th June. This year, the flag is celebrated in both Estonia and Vordingborg. Find out why.

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By Bente D. Knudsen

Despite Danes not being very religious, the Danish flag is seen as God’s own banner, which came falling from the sky back in 1219.

Hence, in 2019 a huge celebration takes place to commemorate the 800-year jubilee.

In Estonia’s capital of Tallinn, Danish Queen Margrethe will participate in the celebrations taking place there on 15 June, and in Denmark, the Danish Crown Prince Couple will participate in the huge celebrations taking place in Vordingborg on Zealand.

Vordingborg was the capital of Denmark at the time, and the remains of one castle tower (the famous Goose tower) and its fortifications, where King Valdemar lived, will be at the centre of the festivities taking place there.

So how did if fall from the sky?

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The story of how it happened could go something like this:

The year was 1219, and Danish King Valdemar II was leading an attack in Estonia; the aim being to conquer the Estonians and to Christianise them.

The battle had been fierce, bodies lay spread out over the field, battered and bloody, and any hope of victory seemed lost. Suddenly, the surviving soldiers heard thunder, the dark clouds scattered, letting a few rays of sunlight shine through.

They looked at the sky above them and saw a red flag with a white cross come floating down. It was as if God had decided to send a sign to the weary men below that all hope was not lost, and that they should take the flag as a sign of God’s faith in them – enabling them to win.

The actual design of Dannebrog with the white cross on the red background is identical with the brand used by the crusader knight order of the Johannites.

They later became the Maltese order and their white cross was no longer simple but had notched tips.

However, in the 13th century, they wore red cloaks with a simple white cross. So much at least for the legend, and if it is true, it would mean that Dannebrog is the oldest national flag in the world.

The name is derived from old Danish and means the “cloth of the Danes”

Historians are not quite sure how to interpret the legend, and the date and year of the battle is also somewhat contested. It is believed that Dannebrog, or a red flag with a white cross in it, was most likely the banner used by the Danish crusaders, who in the beginning of the 13th century made efforts to Christianise Estonia.

Due to this battle, the official Dannebrog day is celebrated every year in Denmark on Valdemar’s Day the 15 June.

In Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, a memorial sculpture in the Danish Garden commemorates the spot where it is believed the flag fell from the sky.

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Plans for the celebrations on 15 June:

Tallinn, Estonia:

Danish Queen Margrethe is present at the commemorations of the 800-year jubilee for Dannebrog as well as the 100 year of the independence of Estonia


At 11:00 Prince Joachim and Princess Marie will be present at the memorial ceremony at Vor Frue Kirke as well as at the events at the town hall and the town square in Copenhagen.

Vordingborg: From 16:00 to 18:00 the Danish Crown Prince Couple will participate in the celebrations of the 800-year jubilee in Vordingborg at and around Danmarks Borgcenter, Slotsruinen 1, Vordingborg.

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Flag flying rules:

All public institutions must fly Dannebrog on the official flag flying days.

If you are in doubt just check your local bus. If it has a flag flying, you can be sure it’s for an official occasion for instance for members of the Royal family.

Private individuals or companies are under no obligation to fly it – though many do

The flag must never touch the ground when carrying it to and from the flagpole

The flag must be raised at sunrise (however never before 8:00) and must be lowered at sunset

What do Danes think of their flag?

We asked three Danes about their flag; what it means to them, if they know where it came from, and who else used the flag’s colours.

Lotte says:

For me Dannebrog has a symbolic value, and when I see it flying on bank holidays and other special occasions, it fills me with a more solemn feeling. Also, when I see it abroad, whatever the occasion, I feel connected to Denmark and it gives me a sense of belonging, a community feeling. I know it fell from the sky, somewhere, I don’t remember where. I don’t know who else used the flag.


First of all, parties and birthdays. And of course, my childhood memories of my father raising the flag on our birthdays in the big garden on the farm where I grew up. Or raising the flag on trips with my scout group, in the morning, taking turns, standing all together.

Of course, it’s also a national symbol of unity, but first of all I see the birthday cake full of Danish flags when you ask me about it. I also think of Dannebrog as part of being Danish, and everything about our society that goes with that.

When talking to foreigners, I would mostly talk about our welfare model, if they ask me what I connect to being Danish and of course our nature, literature and music. There is a fine story about how Dannebrog fell from the sky in the 13th century, not quite the truth of course, but a good story. No, I don’t know, who else used it but I do remember a banner from the temple knight’s order that looks like it, but that is not red with a white cross, as I recall it.

Jens Jacob:

I think Dannebrog is a beautiful flag and it fills me with joy, warmth and a feeling of safety and security. I know it fell from the sky during a battle in the Baltic States, was it Lithuania? No, I don’t know who else used the banner.

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A bit of flag history and why it is so special

What we do know, is that the flag is an important national symbol used by all Danes since the middle of the 19th century. Up until the mid-1850s only the King and State institutions, such as the military, could use it.

However, in 1854 the law preventing ordinary Danes from using the flag was lifted.

After the infamous war against the Germans in 1864, when Denmark lost not only the war and territory to the Germans, but additionally and more importantly their feeling of being a global empire, Dannebrog became the symbol of national gathering.

Ordinary Danes began using the flag, not only on their Christmas tree but to celebrate all aspects of their own lives, weddings, and birthdays. In fact, for any celebration or festive event. And to this day, you will see the flag brought out and used for all important occasions in a Dane’s life.

Interestingly, at the same time it was forbidden to use national flags other than the Danish one. The only exceptions to that rule were (and still are) diplomatic envoys from foreign states and anyone who has obtained special permission to fly their national flag.

In 1915, the justice department even stated that any violation of such a rule would entail that the (foreign) flag be seized and only given back to the owner once the case against them had been deliberated upon!

The regulation regarding other national flags has since been amended (a bit) meaning that you are allowed to also fly the other Nordic states’ flags, the flag from Greenland and the Faroe Islands, as well as the UN and EU flag (not the individual member states, only the official institutional one) without seeking special permission to do so.