Flag Day: How to Display the Flag
Rules for Flying the U.S. Flag
Guidelines for Displaying the Stars and Stripes
One positive result of recent history has been an increased interest in displaying the American Flag on patriotic holidays, or even all year round.
As with all countries, the flag of the United States of America is held in great honor, and there are many traditions to displaying it properly.
Some people proudly hang the flag on their homes every day of the year, and others display it only on major holidays. There are traditions, though, about how to handle this revered symbol of our country.
Here are some rules (in some cases, even codified into law) about how and when to display the flag.
When Flown With Other Flags, the United States Flag Is Displayed on the Tallest Staff or in Front of Other Flags When Carried
Dates to Display the Flag
Citizens are encouraged to display the flag every day, but especially on these days:
- New Year's Day (January 1st)
- Inauguration Day (January 20th)
- Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday (third Monday in January)
- Lincoln's Birthday (February 12th)
- Washington's Birthday (third Monday in February)
- Easter Sunday (varies each year)
- Mother's Day (second Sunday in May)
- Armed Forces Day (third Saturday in May)
- Memorial Day (last Monday in May; flag flies at half-staff until noon)
- Flag Day (June 14th)
- Father's Day (third Sunday in June)
- Independence Day (July 4th)
- Labor Day (first Monday in September)
- Constitution Day (September 17th)
- Columbus Day (second Monday in October)
- Navy Day (October 27th)
- Veterans Day (November 11th)
- Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November)
- Christmas Day (December 25th)
- Other days as proclaimed by the President of the United States
- Anniversary of the date a State was admitted to the union
- State holidays.
You may also want to display the flag on dates when a veteran in your household enlisted or retired, or on dates when a relative or loved one was killed in action.
Star-Spangled Banner by a Rock Band
United States Flag Rules and Traditions
Generally, the flag is displayed from sunrise to sunset, but displaying it at night in a well-lit setting is acceptable and can produce a sense of patriotism.
The United States Government has published guidelines on the proper way to respect and display the United States flag.
- Raising the Flag: The flag is hoisted with vigor, it greets the dawn and is raised with pride.
- Lowering the Flag: You will notice that the flag is generally lowered (when done appropriately) much more slowly than when it is raised. Lowering the flag is done with a sense of dignity and ceremony.
- Saluting and Placing Hand Over Heart: To show reverence, active duty military in uniform should salute when the flag passes in a parade or is raised or lowered. If music is played as it is lowered (such as taps), the salute is held through the last notes of the music or until the flag is removed from the halyard. Civilians or military members not in uniform should 'salute' by places their hands over their hearts.
- Handle with Reverence: When the flag is lowered, great care should be taken to prevent it from touching the ground.
- When Displayed with Other Flags: When more than one flag is displayed (such as at a state capitol building) the United States flag is flown above it or on a higher staff. When displayed with flags of other countries, each flag has its own staff, and in times of peace, the flags are flown at the same height. It is greatly preferred that flags of each nation are similar in size in these settings.
- Floats and Parades: Flags should not be used in decorative manners, such as draping or coverings for vehicles, floats, tables or other surfaces. If a flag is used on a float, it should fly from a staff.
- When Suspended from a Height: The flag may be displayed by suspending it (such as above an entryway or foyer); the union field (the blue area with stars) should be on the left as a person enters the building.
- When Hanging Vertically: The union field (blue with stars) is displayed to the left of the observer's viewpoint.
- Near Speaker's Platform: The flag may be hung behind and above the speaker, or displayed on a staff in the place of honor, to the right of the speaker (the left, when viewed from the audience). If another flag is present, such as in a state government setting or in a church, it is displayed on the left of the speaker (the right of the audience).
- Defacing or Marking the Flag: Flags should not be altered in any manner by marking or drawing on them. It is inappropriate to use images of the flag for advertising purposes.
- Display it Daily! The flag should be flown with pride, every day, especially on or near government buildings, schools and in other public settings. Private citizens who display the flag are encouraged to display it on several holidays (see inset) as a way to recognize the country or the purpose of the holiday.
- Proper Disposal: Flags can get worn and tattered from the wind and weather, even when handled with care. Any flag that is greatly frayed or faded should be disposed of properly; the recommended method is through burning. Scout troops sometimes offer this as a public service; if you have a flag that needs to be disposed of, check with a local troop to see if they will do this for you.
The United States Flag, Carried by Standard Bearers in a Parade
What about you?
Do you display your nation's flag?
Fun Flag Facts and Activities for Children
With so many flags flying on patriotic holidays, you'll have plenty of opportunities to teach your children some fun and interesting facts about the American Flag. Here are a few things they may not know:
- Why 50 Stars? Most children in the United States know that the blue union field holds one star for each of the 50 states, but they might have trouble picturing a flag with fewer than the current 50. For a learning experience, find photos of earlier flags and ask them to count the stars (for example, there were only 48 stars for most of the 1950s), then ask them to research the dates when states were admitted to the union and to figure out how the union field was modified when new stars were added to represent those states.
- Why Thirteen Stripes? The thirteen stripes represent the 13 original colonies. A Congressional Act in 1794 allowed 15 stripes and 15 stars, but a subsequent act in 1818 limited the stripes to 13 (one for each of the original colonies) and one star for each state in the Union.
- The Evolution of the U.S. Flag: There have been 28 or so designs of the United States flag. Contrary to some folklore, the first version was not the one Betsy Ross created (with the famous circle of stars). The first version had the British Union Jack in the upper left corner rather than the field of blue we now have. This part of the flag, however, is still referred to as the union field.
- How the Stars are Distributed: Prior to the 48-star flag, which was developed in 1912, with the admission of Arizona and New Mexico to the union, the manner in which the stars were displayed on the union field was not standardized. A look at previous flags shows round displays at times and variations in the rows of stars throughout the years.
- Half Staff, not Half Mast: The correct term for when the flag is lowered in honor of the death of a dignitary or in other times of mourning is "half staff." It is incorrect to say a flag is a 'half mast,' ships have masts; flags are flown from a staff.
- Each State has a Unique Flag: Your children can take a visual journey through our 50 states by viewing the flags of each state and researching the history behind them. If you're taking a vacation to another state sometimes soon, have the kids learn the nickname, state flower, state motto, state capital and facts about the flag of each state you'll be visiting.
Demonstration of Flag Folding (With Information on the Folklore Meanings of Each Fold)
How to Fold the United States Flag
As mentioned above, the flag is handled with respect and should not touch the ground as it is lowered, removed, and folded.
The tradition of the tri-cornered fold used for the United States Flag is considered unique among the nations and is executed ceremoniously, in a special series of folds. The triangular shape is reminiscent of the tri-cornered hats worn during the period when the United States claimed Independence.
- Two people hold the flag lengthwise, spread between them waist-high to avoid touching the ground.
- Fold the flag in half, lengthwise, with the lower half of the striped section (below the union field) folded over the field of stars.
- The flag is folded lengthwise again, with the blue field on the outside of the folds.
- Starting at the striped end, make a series of triangular folds along the length of the folded flag.
- As the triangular folds are completed, only the blue stars will be seen on either side of the folded flag.
The flag is often displayed over the coffin of a deceased veteran or military member and folded as described above, then presented to the widow, widower or to another family member. Special triangular frames are available to display these flags.
Ideally, six people should participate in folding the flag to stabilize the sides and to help execute smoother folds. But the ceremony can be done by only two people. There is no 'codified' meaning to the folds, but over time, various groups have suggested meanings they feel each fold represents.
How to Properly Fly the Flag at Half Staff | Mast
When the flag is flown halfway up the staff, the proper term is 'half staff' rather than 'half mast.' Sometimes we hear the term 'half mast,' but masts are on ships and flags are on staffs.
To fly a flag at half staff, it must be lowered from full staff (hence the saying that flags were lowered to half staff). The flag is first raised to the full height of the flag staff (the peak), and then slowly, with respect, lowered to half staff.
To position the flag at half staff, lower it to one half the height of the flag staff.
When the flag is lowered at the end of the day, it is again raised to the full height of the staff, and lowered (slowly with respect) and then removed from its halyards. This signifies that the flag is fully raised and lowered, as usual, but is flown at half staff to honor the person or persons for whom the order was issued.
Only the President of the United States or the governor of one of the 50 states may order flags flown at half staff.
© 2012 Marcy Goodfleisch