The Nordic countries are also the member countries of the Nordic Council:
In addition, the following autonomous territories are associated members of the Nordic council:
They enjoy a degree of self-government and are have distinct separate identities within their respective countries. The Lapland region has a distinct identity as well. In loose usage, the term Scandinavia is sometimes used as a synonym for Nordic countries. Strictly, however, Scandinavia only includes Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
The Nordic countries are loosely united by diverse historical and cultural ties. During the Viking era, the Scandinavian countries all shared a common culture, language (Old Norse) and religion (Norse mythology). After being christened around the year 1000 the process of unification established Denmark, Norway and Sweden as separate kingdoms. Sweden eventually came to include Finland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands belonged to Norway and the Danish king for long periods dominated over large parts of England. In the 13th century Norway, Denmark and Sweden united under one regent, in the Kalmar Union. Denmark quickly gained the upper hand and after a civil war in the early 16th century Sweden reestablished itself as a separate kingdom. The union of Denmark and Norway would last until the 19th century.
After establishing itself as one of the Great powers in Europe during the 17th century Sweden would ultimately loose its foreign dominions one by one, culminating with the loss of Finland to Russia in 1809. The 19th century spelled political union between Sweden and Norway, and the rise of Scandinavism, which unsuccessfully strived to once again unite the three Scandinavian countries into one kingdom.
After World War I ended in 1917 Finland emerged for the first time as an independent nation and the perspective of a Nordic community was able to replace the dream of a united Scandinavia. Following the Second world war Iceland gained its independence from Denmark and the foundations for the Nordic council was laid.
The Nordic countries share similar traits in the policies implemented under the after war period, especially in the social area. All Nordic countries have a large tax funded public welfare sectors and extensive social legislation. In most cases this is due to the political ambitions of the many Social Democrat governments that came to power during the after war period, in each of the Nordic countries.
After being christened around the first millennium the Nordic countries followed the protestant reformation of the Catholic church which took place during the 16th century. The Nordic countries all had Lutheran state churches, which today still has a large membership count. This despite the fact that most members consider themselves secularized and the official status as a state church in several instances has been abandoned.
All Nordic countries, including the Faroe and Åland Islands, have a similar flag design, all based on the Dannebrog, the Danish flag. They display a cross with the intersection left of the center, the "Scandinavian cross".