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Flag Day: How to Display the Flag

Updated on July 20, 2016
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy writes about American life, holidays, politics and other topics. She has written hundreds of articles for online & print publications.

Rules for Flying the U.S. Flag

Fly the flag with pride, but follow the guidelines for doing it properly.
Fly the flag with pride, but follow the guidelines for doing it properly. | Source

Guidelines for Displaying the Stars and Stripes | Flag

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.

The US flag is on the tallest staff, and is carried in front of state flags by the standard bearers on foot.
The US flag is on the tallest staff, and is carried in front of state flags by the standard bearers on foot. | Source

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.

United States Flag Rules | 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.

Star-Spangled Banner by a Rock Band

The United States Flag, carried by standard bearers in a parade

Source

What about you?

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Fun Flag Facts | 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.


Video Demonstration on Folding the Flag (with information on the folklore meanings of each fold).

How to Fold the United States | U.S. 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.

  1. Two people hold the flag lengthwise, spread between them waist high to avoid touching the ground.
  2. Fold the flag in half, lengthwise, with the lower half of the striped section (below the union field) folded over the field of stars.
  3. The flag is folded lengthwise again, with the blue field on the outside of the folds.
  4. Starting at the striped end, make a series of triangular folds along the length of the folded flag.
  5. 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.


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  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 3 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Peg - I'm so glad the hub was useful for you! I'm so honored to know people who served, or whose family members served. As with you, I'd always assumed the Union Field should be on the opposite side (it seemed to look more cosmetically appropriate that way). At least we now know the way tradition prefers us to display our great flag. Than you for reading and sharing!

  • PegCole17 profile image

    Peg Cole 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas

    This informative hub has answered a question I've had for a number of years and in fact, has corrected an assumption about hanging a flag vertically. I went out to the link you provided and found you are so right that the blue union field should actually be on the left of the observer's viewpoint! Wow. Thanks so much. All these years I was incorrect about the proper way to display a flag.

    My Dad was a Naval Officer and taught us early how to fold a flag in the triangular shape. We watched him do it many times. Great hub and I will be sharing it on this special Memorial Day. Thank you.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Turtlewoman - it would be great if you could write a hub about your Vietnam flag - that would be so interesting! Thanks for reading and commenting - I'm so glad you found new and useful information here!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thank you, Lisa - what a kind comment! So glad you enjoyed the hub.

  • Turtlewoman profile image

    Kim Lam 4 years ago from California

    Wow, this is an eye opener for me. I have never put much thought into how our American flag is raised, or even certain ways to not disrespect it. I do remember learning what the stars and stripes signified in elementary school. Now I'm starting to wonder about our Vietnam flag...

    Great hub Marcy!

  • LisaKoski profile image

    LisaKoski 4 years ago from WA

    Very cool hub. I really like how you covered so much information and yet it was still a pleasure to read.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Victoria Lynn - thanks so much for your kind comments, your votes, and for helping to spread the word!

  • Victoria Lynn profile image

    Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

    Well-researched and well-written hub! You share great information. Many votes and I'm sharing this one, Marcy!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Margie - I appreciate your comments, votes and shares!

  • Mmargie1966 profile image

    Mmargie1966 4 years ago from Gainesville, GA

    This is absolutely wonderful! Every American needs to read this...so I shared!

    Voted up and across, also! Thanks for sharing, Marcy!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Levertis - While I can't advise others, I can tell you that I would not destroy a flag simply because it had touched the ground. From what I've read, that indeed follows the guidelines. As with you, I have my father's flag from his casket, and also my mother's, since she, too, was a veteran. They are among my most cherished keepsakes, and I would not want to part with them.

    The guidelines for handling flags are to show the respect we should show, but I'm certain those things (accidentally letting one touch the groud) over the years. The main point is the respect we feel, and that we do our best to honor those guidelines. Burning a flag is the recommended method when one has become too frayed or damaged to fly with dignity (meaning the dignity we owe our country, since the flag itself can't feel dignity).

    It sounds like you come from a long line of wonderful people who have heroically served our country - you must feel a great sense of heritage when you see those flags, or when you're able to fly one on a holiday. Cherish them always. It's clear you would never deliberately let one be dropped or something. We are only human, and we can only make our best efforts at this things. But if that happened to one of my parents' flags (and the flag was still in good condition), I would personally not feel obligated to destroy it.

    Hope that helps you iron out your own thoughts on it? Thanks for reading and commenting, and thank you for the wonderful legacy of service your family has given us.

  • Levertis Steele profile image

    Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime

    Marcy,

    I am quoting from your hub: "When the flag is lowered, great care should be taken to prevent it from touching the ground."

    There are special American flags in my family that date back to WWII. My father's is the oldest in my closer family. We also have veterans who were in all branches of the armed forces. These flags hold much memory and meaning for us. If we raise one of them on a national holiday and drop it while lowering it, what would you suggest we do? I am patriotic enough, I think, but burning, I do not know! I still remember the first day I saw it, draped across his casket. I remember an officer of the army presenting it to my mom before his burial. I remember the pride I felt as the huge crowd looked on with respect and awe. I remember that the officers were White, and I wondered why they would do this for a Black man and his family. I thought all Whites felt the same about Blacks. Like most races we have a tendency to stereotype all when members of a race affect us negatively. I was a child who thought like a child in 1964, but I remember.

    Would you advise me to burn Daddy's flag if it touched the ground? If you would, I would not be offended because the choice is mine. I suppose I never fully grasped the concept of the burning. I understood it, but I saw no harm in NOT doing it.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, RTalloni - Many thanks for reading, and for your nice comments. I'd love for you to link the hub - I will check yours out, too. It would be nice to give readers additional information!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Peggy - thanks so much for your kind words and votes! So glad you enjoyed the hub!

  • RTalloni profile image

    RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

    So good to see this informative hub on respecting our flag just in time for Flag Day!

    Am linking to my patriotic holiday hubs if you have no objection.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

    You did a GREAT job with this hub, Marcy! I need not say more except to say that it gets many up votes and will be SHARED. Thanks!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Will - I'm so glad you like the hub - the flag still brings tears to my eyes, I have to admit! Thanks for reading and leaving your nice words!

  • WillStarr profile image

    WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    Very good Hub, Marcy! Voted up.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Teaches - how lucky you were to grow up in a family where the flag was honored so often! Isn't it heartwarming to drive down the street and see flags displayed on homes? Thanks for your comments here,

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

    My mother used to hang out the American Flag on most holidays. I have forgotten how much it meant to her. Thanks for posting the days for celebration. I see that Flag Day is just around the corner and it's a probably the most important day to display the flag. Voted up!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    I've seen those sad and disrespectful treatments of the flag, too, Alocsin - it hurts when you comebacross those things, doesn't it? Thanks for reading, and for your kind comments here.

  • alocsin profile image

    alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

    I wish more folks would read this hub. I've seen the flag displayed all kinds of inappropriate ways, including tattered and torn, sometimes by government workers. Voting this Up and Useful.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Many thanks, Aviannovice - I'm so glad you like the hub!

  • aviannovice profile image

    Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

    Good and proper information. It is also necessary to know this, too.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks for your kind comments, TFScientist! After writing this, I decided it would be neat to know about similar traditions in other countries. We have such a multi-national group of writers on this site - I hope other Hubbers consider sharing this type of information.

  • TFScientist profile image

    Rhys Baker 4 years ago from Peterborough, UK

    Wow. I didn't know there was so much symbolism and reverence over the flag. Not something that is typically repeated on this side of the pond. I wear my Welsh flag to rugby games and it often drapes and drags along the floor. The state of the flags on official buildings suggest that such reverence is not seen in this country!

    Great hub - very informative, if very foreign to me :) Voted up and thanks for sharing

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Dwachira - I'm actually not sure about Navy Day other than perhaps it commemorates the day the Navy was officially created? Perhaps someone here knows the answer and can share the information. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • dwachira profile image

    [ Danson Wachira ] 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    A very interesting hub Marcy, now i got it ...half staff, NOT half mast. I was wondering what Navy day is celebrated for? A battle victory may be?

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Billy - As with you (I think we're from the same era), we learned many things about the flag as far back as our earliest years in school. I have heard that kids today don't even memorize the Pledge of Allegiance. It is piped over the intercom, and they stand and listen to it, but they don't know the words. Similarly, many people don't know the words to the National Anthem. So sad.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Mr. Happy - thanks for the kind words about our love of flying the flag here in the U.S. - it's touching to know people have noticed that! I think there was a resurgence of interest in the flag after 9/11. Many thanks, again, for reading and commenting here.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Oh, Jeff - I hope you do write that hub! There's information on one of the sites I linked to (the site URL is something like flag dot org) about the 'wall of shame' for flag abuse. You might get some additional ideas there. Thanks for commenting here, and let me know if you do write that hub so we can link to each other?

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Cruelkindness - thanks for your thoughtful comments here. I'm so glad you enjoyed the hub. I agree - learning about these traditions is so interesting!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Great hub Marcy! I had this drilled into me at an early age but it is surprising how many people don't know these things. You did a great job of presenting the information.

  • Mr. Happy profile image

    Mr. Happy 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

    This was an interesting article to read. I did not know all the little details such as: "The triangular shape is reminiscent of the tri-cornered hats worn during the period when the United States claimed Independence."

    "When the flag is lowered at the end of the day" - All flying flags are lowered every day?

    I like flags. I guess it is because I like colours and flags tend to be colourful (most of them).

    Thank You for putting this piece of writing together. I have visited some countries and I must say that besides France, the most flags I saw flying around has been when I have traveled through the States. You guys do like your flags, for sure.

    Cheers!

  • Jeff Berndt profile image

    Jeff Berndt 4 years ago from Southeast Michigan

    Hi, Marcy,

    I appreciate this article. So many people have been improperly displaying the flag lately.

    I may write a companion piece about how NOT to display the flag, for example: Do not fly the flag from a short staff embedded in a concrete-filled five-gallon bucket strapped to the bed of your pickup. The flag will quickly become tattered at highway speeds, and will even more quickly become soiled by road grime. Driving around with a tattered, soiled flag flying from your vehicle sends the opposite message from the one you wish to convey. If you wish to display the flag on your vehicle, do so with a colorfast sticker, and keep it clean.

  • cruelkindness profile image

    cruelkindness 4 years ago from an angle view.

    Awesome knowledge, with some facts I never knew about. Great hub on everyday things we see or do without thinking about the origins. I for some reason remember facts like these the first time I learn of them. I think it's so interesting on how certain traditions came to be.

    It was a joy to read!

    Cruelkindness (Subliminally Thoughtless)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Graham - thanks for reading and for leaving such nice words here. Most people (well, quite a few) have heard half mast for so long that they think that's the right term. In recent years, I've noticed news casters use the correct term, though.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Kathleen - I knew I had left something out! Yes, I will add the proper disposal of the flag - thanks for reminding me. I didn't know about scout troops offering that service; I will suggest that people check into that if they ever need to put a well-worn flag to rest. Many thanks!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, fpher - thanks for reading the hub, and for your sweet words! Please tell your son I'm thankful for his service to our country. You have a right to be a very proud mom!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Kaili - thanks so much for your comment here, and for the nice thoughts about our tradition of displaying the flag. I still get choked up when I see it, salute it or hear the National Anthem!

  • old albion profile image

    Graham Lee 4 years ago from Lancashire. England.

    Hi Marcy. An absolutely fascinating hub. I really enjoyed it, I have always wondered about the folding of the flag as I have seen this happen in films etc... Yes I always said half mast, but it's obvious really that it is half staff when on land.

    Voted up.

    Graham.

  • Kathleen Cochran profile image

    Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Thanks for this information - especially at this time of year. One addition: worn or tattered flags should be burned, not thrown away. Your nearest Boy Scout Troop usually has an annual ceremony for buring damaged flags. You can donate them.

    Up and Useful

  • fpherj48 profile image

    Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    Marcy....I can tell you with certainty, my son, the handsome U.S. Marine, would be very proud of you and give you and your hub, a respectful salute!! UP!!!

  • Kaili Bisson profile image

    Kaili Bisson 4 years ago from Canada

    Hi Marcy...this is a great Hub. On my very frequent travels in the U.S., I have noticed that more people tend to display the flag in front of their homes than Canadians do here with the Maple Leaf. I think displaying the flag is wonderful.

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