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14 Finer Points of the U.S. Flag Code

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Tom Pennington/

The National Flag Code was adopted on June 14, 1923, by the National Flag Conference. The representatives from the U.S. Army and Navy and more than 60 other organizations in attendance were charged with examining the rules and procedures of flag display—developed separately by the Army and Navy—and deciding which of those would come together to form a common flag code for everyone. The code (with some edits since its original 1923 version) was adopted as law in 1942.

You know a thing or two about the flag code: no burning, no wearing the flag (except the crucial flag lapel pins, of course – “…the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart”), and no using the flag for advertising. But have you ever actually read the code in its entirety?  Here are some quotes, rules and procedures from the flag code that you might not be familiar with.

1. Sorry, south-paws. During the playing of the National Anthem, you must remove your hat using your right hand.

2. You may be aware that the American flag is only supposed to be displayed from sunrise to sunset, but the code-writers left room for some interpretation: "when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during hours of darkness.” When is flying a flag not patriotic in effect?

3. “How ought the flag to be hoisted?” you ask. Well, the “Manner of hoisting” section of the code clearly explains: “The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.”

4. In the “Particular days of display” section, the code indicates that the flag should be displayed on “all days” but “especially” on particular holidays, including Independence Day, Memorial Day and Thanksgiving, among others. All days are equal, but some are more equal than others.

5.The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle or of a railroad train or a boat.

6. When the flag is displayed over the middle of the street, it should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street or to the east in a north and south street.

7. When you fly a flag at half-staff, you have to first hoist the flag to the peak before lowering it to half-staff. Then, when you lower it for the day, you have to first raise it to its peak again.

8. The flag is to be flown at half-staff for 30 days after the death of the president or former president of the United States. It is to be flown at a half-staff for ten days after the death of a vice president (as well as the secretary of state, speaker of the house, and a chief justice or former chief justice of the Supreme Court) but it is only flown at half-staff from the day of death until the day of interment for former vice presidents.

9. Don’t even think about festooning Old Glory.

10. And if you’re thinking of using the flag as a receptacle, take note: “The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.”

11. “It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.”

Oops?

12. Per the code, the flag is to be considered a living thing.

13. “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

14. And, interestingly, “On the admission of a new State into the Union one star shall be added to the union of the flag; and such addition shall take effect on the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.”

Happy Fourth of July!

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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