If the legend of how Dannebrog became the Danish national flag were true, it would make it the World's oldest national flag still in use. The first factual proof that Dannebrog was used to represent the king of the Danes can be seen as soon as in the fourteenth century as it was incorporated in the coat of arms of King Valdemar III.
The word Dannebrog literally means the cloth of the Danes.
Up to 1854 the Dannebrog was solely the flag of the Danish King and the Royal Navy. Slowly it also became the Danish symbol of the army and the mercantile marine and in 1854, private persons were allowed to use the rectangular flag.
The Dannebrog exists in various forms. The most famous and known one is the rectangular form which is a simple white cross on a bright red background. The exact shade of the red color of the background of the rectangular flag has never been established, but rest assured that the Danes will know when it's right or wrong!
The Dannebrog also exists in a swallow-tailed version. The form has been known since the fifteenth century and it also represented the King and the Navy. The shade of red of the swallow-tailed Dannebrog is a deeper red than the one used on the rectangular version. Today, this version of the flag belongs to the state of Denmark, the Royal House and the Navy. Private persons must have a special permission to fly the swallow-tailed Dannebrog.
The swallow-tailed Dannebrog of the Queen of Denmark is very recognisable, as it has the royal coat of arms in the central field. The other members of the Royal Family do also have their own versions. These flags are used when those concerned are in residence. Other versions are made as special standards for e.g. the Minister of Defence, and they have an emblem in the top-inner red square of the flag.
To the above two versions of the Dannebrog, a smaller sister is found in the form of a pennant. The exact size of a pennant is nowhere to be found as the flagmakers make them as they have always made them!
The Danish people love their flag and are very proud to use it whenever it is possible, this being as a tiny paper version for the Christmas tree or as facial make-up at a football match.
There are a few rules to follow when it comes to the display of Dannebrog. The two big versions - the rectangular and the swallow-tail - are flown on special occasions and are hoisted at sunrise (usually 8 o'clock) and lowered at sunset. To fly Dannebrog by night is considered an offense and is punishable by law. The flag must never touch the ground. The pennant (this version is never called Dannebrog) can be used 24 hours and is only lowered when Dannebrog is hoisted.
When Do the Danes Hoist Dannebrog?
The official days on which the flags are flown are divided into four categories: religious holidays, national days, birthdays in the Royal Family and military flag-flying days. Only the first three categories are used by the Danish public.
In addition, Dannebrog is hoisted on the special days of Danish families: birthdays, weddings....
New Year's Day
Good Friday - The flag is at half staff the whole day
April 9 Occupation of Denmark 1940 - The flag is at half staff till noon and then at full
May 5 Liberation of Denmark 1945
June 5 Constitution Day
June 15 Valdemar Day - The "birthday" of the flag
Birthdays in the Royal Family
April 16 Queen Margrethe II
April 29 Princess Benedikte
May 26 Crown Prince Frederik
June 7 Prince Joachim
June 11 Prince Henrik
June 30 Princess Alexandra
Military Flag-flying Days
February 2 Battle of Mysunde 1864
February 11 Storm of Copenhagen 1659
April 2 Battle of Reden 1801
April 18 Battle at Dybbøl 1864
May 9 Battle at Helgoland 1864
July 6 Battle at Fredericia 1849
July 25 Battle at Isted 1850
October 4 Storm of Frederiksstad 1850