The Flag of Finland: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

Written by Taiwo Victor
Published: January 12, 2023
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Finland is a Nordic country in Europe and the most geographically remote region globally. The country borders Russia to the west and Sweden to the east and is covered with thick woodlands and many water sources.

Most of Finland consists of Finns, with a small percentage of the population being Sami (also called Saami, Lapp, or Sabme). Although the country is primarily bilingual, with most fluent in Finnish or Sweden, people also speak Sami languages but to a lesser extent. 

Despite using unofficial flags and a coat of arms under Russian rule, Finland only proclaimed their own national flag after becoming independent in 1917. Their blue cross flag is flown throughout the year to mark Finnish celebrations and days of remembrance.  

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In this article, we’ll look at Finland’s flag history, symbolism, and interesting characteristics of the Finnish culture.

Founding of Finland

Lake Saimaa Finland

Finland is the happiest nation in the world.


Archeological remains in present-day Finland reveal that the early people occupying these lands were descendants of the Sami people. They lived as hunter-gatherers during the Ice Age, circa 8500 BCE. Although we are not sure what attracted these groups to Finland, one can assume its rich hunting and fishing kept them there.  

The first written sources about Finland dates to the 12th and 13 centuries. During this historical period, Catholicism spread through the parts of the Baltic region that were still pagan. Notably, Sweden colonized Finland after the Northern Crusades of the 12th century, bringing their faith with them, and ruled over the country for hundreds of years.

As an integral part of the Swedish Kingdom, Finland was a crucial player in the country’s complex history. During Sweden’s 700-year colonial reign, the Finns fought under the Swedes in many wars and battles, and their land was a prominent battleground between the Kingdom of Sweden and the Russian empire. 

Sweden lost Finland to Russia after being defeated by them in the Finnish War of 1809. Under their rule, Finland became a Grand Duchy of Russia, existing autonomously as a state within a state under the federation. After the Russian revolution in 1917, they finally became sovereign. 

Characteristics of Finland

With a population of 5.6 million, Finland is relatively small by global standards. Yet, despite not being very big, Finland proves that size doesn’t matter in becoming great. They’re ranked among the best countries in the world. 

Finland, known for being one of the safest, most free, and most stable in the world, is a nation celebrated for its achievements.

The Finnish people have been named “the happiest nation” for five consecutive years” on the World Happiness Report. Contributing factors to this general state of contentment include a high standard of living, low corruption, social support, and freedom. 

Additionally, Finland and other Nordic countries came close to achieving the United Nations development goals of 2021. 

Finland’s population is dispersed across an area covering 130,678 square miles, with many Finns living in the country’s capital and largest city, Helsinki. Nearly half of the small collection of Sami people, Finland’s recognized indigenous individuals, live in an area known as the Sami homeland. 

Language forms an important part of Finnish identity, with most of its population speaking Finnish. As a result of being part of Sweden for 600 years, Swedish is a recognized language of Finland. 

Out of the 11 Sami languages, there are three in Finland, with North Sami being the most common. These languages, which resemble Finnish to a degree, are most prevalent in the northernmost part of the country. 

Perhaps owing to its religious background, Finland is predominantly Christian, with 66% of its population affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (Protestant).

History of the Finnish Flag

The Finnish flag was adopted in 1918.


Before becoming a sovereign state, Finland didn’t have a flag, adopting Swedish and Russian flags as its own.

Patriotic Finns wanted a unique flag to represent independent Finland. However, much debate surrounding the flag design ensued, with many ideas circulating about how it might look. Even a competition was run where artists were encouraged to submit their best flag sketches. 

Before they declared themselves independent of Russia in 1917, many Finnish homes unofficially used Finland’s coat of arms to symbolize their national identity. Others utilized the colors (white, yellow, and red) from the coat of arms on flags. 

The emblem features a crowned, yellow-colored lion against a red background. The creature is holding a white sword with an armored human arm replacing its right foreleg and standing over a saber. Dotting the red are nine white roses. 

Although the coat of arms wasn’t chosen as the national flag, it features in the present-day republic’s state flag, the swallow-tailed state flag, and the flag of the President of the Republic of Finland. 

The blue cross flag widely flown across Finland today is called the Siniristilippu. Proposed by the prominent author Zacharias Topelius in 1862, this 19th-century design answered the country’s need for a completely different and new flag. 

Many favored the blue cross design. Being the most popular choice across the nation, the blue cross was finally adopted as the official flag in 1918. The flag has remained mostly unaltered, although the blue shade has slightly been darkened to avoid significant fading resulting from inclement weather.

Meaning and Symbolism of the Flag of Finland

The flag’s white background defines Finland’s often extreme climate.


The famous poet Zacharias Topelius aptly defined Finland’s flag as representing “the blues of our lakes and the white snow of our winter.”

The flag’s white background defines Finland’s often extreme climate, and the blue cross refers to its vast, watery landscapes.

The white symbolizes Finland’s white winters, with snow encapsulating the entire country. Meanwhile, the blue cross embodies the thousands of lakes and bodies of water scattered across Finland.

Variations of the Finnish Flag

The Finnish flag has four variants, all of which have the blue cross as their main feature. 

The national flag has the blue cross displayed across a white background with no other details. Anyone, including citizens, organizations, and municipalities, can use this flag respectfully. 

The state flag is similar to the national flag but features Finland’s coat of arms that sits in a square at the intersection of the blue cross. This flag variation, which is rectangular or three-pointed, can only be used by bodies of national and provincial governments. 

The swallow-tailed state flag, previously the war flag, is blue on white with the coat of arms positioned in the middle. The cross takes the form of a swallowtail. Only the military and defense forces are authorized to fly this flag. 

Finally, the flag of the President of the Republic of Finland, or the presidential standard, is like the swallow-tailed state flag but includes the cross of liberty in the upper-left corner. As the name implies, only the current leader of Finland can hoist this flag.

Finland’s Flag-Flying Culture and Rules

The Finnish population takes every opportunity to fly their flags high. Their calendar is filled with many flag-flying days that seek to celebrate and remember important dates and people in Finnish history.

These days, public buildings and private homes will hoist their flags typically between sunrise and sundown – the times changing at different times of the year. 

Breaking the rules in The Act on The Flag of Finland is often harshly met with heavy fines. For example, you can’t damage a flag or treat it disrespectfully, you’re forbidden from selling flags with incorrect dimensions or colors, and you’re not allowed to remove a flag from its proper place if you don’t have permission. 

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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