Nestled between Memorial Day and the 4th of July, Flag Day is often overlooked, but it traces its roots back to the early days of the United States. 

What Is Flag Day and Why Is It Recognized?

Flag Day is a celebration of the American flag. It takes place every year on June 14 in remembrance of when the Stars and Stripes. designed by Congressman Francis Hutchinson or Betsy Ross, was introduced by the Continental Congress as the official American flag on June 14, 1777.

The Declaration of Independence had united the colonies under a single entity. Therefore, Congress was likewise looking to unite the colonies under a single banner. (Until that point, all 13 colonies had their own flag.)

Original 1777 flag design

“The flag of the United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white, with a union of thirteen stars of white on a blue field…,” Congress said. Each stripe and star represented a colony. One of the first flag designs had the stars arranged in a circle, based on the idea that all colonies were equal.

The circular “Betsy Ross” flag is most popular in books and films.

The red stripes symbolize valor whereas the white purity and innocence. The stars sewn into the blue background represent vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

In 1795, when Vermont and Kentucky were admitted into the Union as states, the flag changed as two stars and two stripes were added. Every subsequent flag went back to the original 13 red and white stripes. 

Since the American Revolution in 1777, there have been 27 different versions of the American flag. Stars have been added to the American flag as states joined the Union. The most current version, the 50-star flag, was recognized in 1960 when Alaska and Hawaii became states. A 17-year-old high school student, Robert G. Heft, of Lancaster, Ohio, submitted the design in a contest in 1958. It was chosen, from more than 1,500 submissions, by President Dwight Eisenhower.

The 1912 flag with 48 stars was used until the current flag of 50 stars.

The evolution of the American flag is therefore not only the history of a symbol but that of the land and its people.

The Father of Flag Day

In 1885, a school teacher, Bernard J. Cigrand, encouraged his students to reflect on the symbolism behind the American flag.

Cigrand proposed the establishment of an annual observance for the nation’s flag and wrote an article titled Fourteenth of June that was published in the Chicago Argus newspaper. Therefore, although few Americans would recognize his name, Cigrand is regarded as the “Father of Flag Day.”

The illustration of the most common story of Betsy Ross sewing the flag for General George Washington.

The Thirteen Folds of the Flag

A common theme at military funerals and for many veterans and public officials is the folding of the flag which is traditionally given to the next of kin. 

The honor guard at the gravesite takes meticulous care in folding the flag crisply 13 times to complete the ceremony.

Each of the folds represents the following,

  • The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.
  • The second fold signifies our belief in eternal life.
  • The third fold is made in honor and tribute of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace.
  • The fourth fold exemplifies our weaker nature as citizens trusting in God; it is to Him we turn for His divine guidance.
  • The fifth fold is an acknowledgment to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our Country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.”
  • The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
  • The seventh fold is a tribute to our armed forces, for it is through the armed forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies.
  • The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.
  • The ninth fold is an honor to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty, and devotion that the character of men and women who have made this country great have been molded.
  • The 10th fold is a tribute to the father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first-born.
  • The 11th fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • The 12th fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.
  • The last fold, when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, ‘In God We Trust.'”
The 48-star flag that was raised and flown by U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima was immortalized in the iconic photograph of WWII.

How Flag Day Is Celebrated

President Woodrow Wilson on May 30, 1916, established the national Flag Day as June 14. President Harry Truman signed legislation in 1949 proclaiming Flag Day as a national holiday, although it has never been celebrated as an official federal holiday.

Only two states celebrate Flag Day as a state holiday, Pennsylvania and New York. The Empire State recognizes the second Sunday every June as a state holiday in honor of Flag Day.

The flag is supposed to be taken down at night as a token of respect unless it is an area that is properly illuminated. However, there are places where the flag is flown around the clock. These are,

  • The White House
  • The U.S. Capitol
  • The Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia
  • The Iwo Jima Memorial to U.S. Marines in Arlington, Virginia
  • The Revolutionary War battleground in Lexington, Massachusetts
  • The site of George Washington’s winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
  • Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland
  • The Jenny Wade House in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (Jenny Wade was the only civilian killed in the Battle of Gettysburg, during the Civil War)
  • The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
  • All customs points of entry into the United States
  • Any US Navy ship that is underway at sea