Finland often gets a raw deal. For those less geographically inclined, it tends to – wrongly – get lumped together as a Scandinavian nation.
For others, its lengthy period under Russian influence – often deemed subjugation by Finnish nationalists – aligns it more with Eastern Europe than with the West.
Located at the intersection of Eurasia and Europe and serving as a bridge between Western Europe and Russia, Finland has historically been a nation where diverse languages, cultures, and civilizations converge.
Finland proudly identifies as a Nordic country, part of a region sharing a Viking heritage despite cultural and linguistic diversity.
Cultural history is the foundational link of the Nordic nations, and it is important to remember that Finland was very much part of the Viking sphere of influence.
Following the early modern period, during which Finland was a part of Sweden, it was transferred to the Russian Empire.
Finland remained under Russian rule until 1917 when it declared independence amidst the political upheaval resulting from the Russian Revolution.
In need of a unifying symbol, the newly independent nation sought a flag that could both unite and inspire its people.
Remarkably, the leaders of this young nation discovered their flag's design in a most unexpected location.
The design of Finland's national flag traces its origins back to the Nyländska Jaktklubben, a prestigious yacht club founded in Helsinki in 1861, where a similar flag was first used. Photo: Paasikivi / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
From a yacht club to a symbol of the nation
The Finnish national flag – its official flag since 1918 – has its origins in a yacht club. Yes, you read correctly.
Whilst the flags of many nations originated from bloody battles, wars, or revolutions, Finland's flag, Suomen lippu, has a unique history that traces back to the Nyländska Jaktklubben, a yacht club established in Helsinki in 1861.
Members of this club flew a flag similar to the "Flag of St. George," which Finnish merchant shipping used during the recently concluded Crimean War (1853 – 1856).
This flag features a navy-blue Nordic cross – representing Christianity - on a white background. By the time Finland declared and gained its independence in 1917, it would become a national symbol.
The blue is said to represent the many lakes found dotted throughout the country, whilst the white background symbolizes the snow that is ever-present in the colder months.
Following Finland's independence from Russia, this flag was chosen as the winner of a nationwide search.
Other proposed designs included a yellow Nordic cross on a red background, which was deemed too similar to the Danish national flag.
Another featured the inverse colors – a white cross on a blue background – but, as one critic put it, this design was more suited for a barbershop than a symbol of the nation. Ouch!
The modern flag, prominently displayed throughout the nation, was designed and formalized by Finnish artists Eero Snellman and Bruno Tuukkanen.
They drew inspiration from a concept created by Finnish poet and historian Zachris Topelius in approximately 1860.
- READ MORE: What you need to know about Norway's flag
At the end of World War II in Finland, Finnish soldiers raised their national flag at a special landmark, the three-country cairn, where Norway, Sweden, and Finland meet. Photo: Military Museum of Finland (Public domain)
Respect the flag
Like most national flags, the Suomen lippu is strictly protected and regulated by a plethora of laws.
Primarily, it should be shown the utmost respect as it is illegal under Finnish law to deface or use the flag less-than-respectfully.
Removing the flag from a flagpole (whether flying or not) is generally illegal without specific authorization. Perpetrators face a fine and prosecution for daring to disrespect the siniristilippu.
Scouring Finnish law, one can also see that there are a number of rules on how to treat the flag respectfully.
The flag must never touch the ground, nor is it allowed to be dirty, damaged, or in a general state of disrepair. When washed and cleaned, it must dry indoors, away from the elements.
After years of proudly serving as a symbol of the Finnish state, the flag should be burned at the end of its life. That's right; there are even stipulations about its destruction.
The flag's retirement deserves the same respect as when it proudly flew, and its ceremonial burning should be conducted with solemnity and reverence.
The flag may be flown at half-mast both in private and public when there is a period of mourning.
For Finns flying the flag at their homes, it is customary to lower it to half-mast in the event of a resident's death.
It remains at half-mast until either sunset or 9 pm, whichever is earlier, on the day of the death, considering Finland's extended daylight hours during the warmer months.
The flag, flown at all Finnish government buildings (including embassies worldwide), is also at half-mast during national mourning periods, such as those following the 2004 Koninkangas bus disaster or the shootings in Jokela and Kauhajoki.
The Aulanko Observation Tower, surrounded by Finland's iconic blue lakes and green forests, proudly flies the national flag. Photo: nblx / Shutterstock
A powerful and inspiring emblem
The Finnish national flag - Suomen lippu – holds profound significance, symbolizing the nation's proud history and cultural heritage. Following independence from the Russian Empire, it stood as a permanent reminder of the Finnish people's resistance and resilience.
Adopted in 1918, the flag encapsulates the spirit of this independence and sovereignty, maintained after centuries of foreign subjugation, first by Sweden and then by Russia.
The dark blue Nordic cross on a white background symbolizes the nation's connection to its beautiful natural environment and, especially since 1945, its commitment to peace.
Beyond being just a mere emblem or a piece of cloth, the flag serves as a unifying and inspiring force, fostering a sense of national pride in all Finns. It is a powerful emblem of the nation's history, culture, and unity.
So next time you are down at your local yacht club, keep an eye out for any inspiring flags... you will never know where you will see them next.
For more information about an essential part of Finnish social and cultural life, visit the BBC here.
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