If you know one thing about Flag Day, it’s probably… that it exists. As far as holidays go, Flag Day isn’t one that people eagerly await. We decided to celebrate Flag Day this year by rounding up 10 facts about flags and flag days from around the world.
1. June 14 Is Flag Day Only In The United States
Maybe this isn’t that surprising, but what Americans know as “Flag Day” is not a general celebration of every flag that has ever existed. It’s very specifically a celebration of the American flag, which was adopted by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. The design of the flag has changed a bit over the years — after all, the number of states has increased quite a bit, and the number of stars on the flag has changed to reflect that — but has overall stayed the same.
2. Flag Day Was Created By A Wisconsin School Teacher
Bernard Cigrand, who worked as a teacher in a small town in Wisconsin, is largely credited with being the first to celebrate Flag Day in the United States. He first led the charge to creating the holiday by celebrating it in his school in 1885, and he spent his life advocating for the holiday. It wasn’t until 1916 that it received official recognition, when President Woodrow Wilson signed a decree establishing the holiday.
3. Betsy Ross May Or May Not Have Designed The American Flag
It’s widely taught that Betsy Ross designed the prototype of the modern American flag, but the historical record doesn’t fully back it up. Much of the legend comes from Ross’ grandson William Canby, who wrote in 1870 that Ross had been the one to finalize the design, but there is no hard evidence for this beyond family tradition. Betsy Ross did contribute her skills during the revolution, but it’s hard to know for sure who made the American flag.
4. Other Countries Have Their Own Flag Days
No, Flag Day is not just a weird American thing; it’s a weird country thing! Not every country has their own, but many do, and often they’re tied to other national days, like Independence Days or Constitution Days. Countries that have Flag Days include Portugal (December 1), Greece (October 27) and Turkmenistan (February 19), among many others.
5. Denmark Has The Oldest Continuously Used Flag
Using the Guinness World Records’ somewhat stingy definition of “continuous use,” Denmark has the oldest flag in the world, having been adopted in 1625. The design itself had been around for much longer, stretching back to at least the 15th century. The Scottish flag also has laid claim to being the oldest, but it appears that the colors of the flag were inconsistent. While the Scots have for hundreds of years used the saltire — the x-shaped cross — the blue-and-white flag did not become official until later on, which means the Danish flag has the strongest claim to being the oldest.
6. The Most Common Flag Color Is Red
Countries like to play it safe with flag colors. Of the 196 country flags generally recognized, almost a third use some shade of red. Blue and white are the second and third most common colors, which means the United States and the United Kingdom are pretty unexceptional in their choice of patriotic hues.
7. The First Flags Came From Asia
The very earliest references to flags come from ancient China and India. There is a record of the founder of the Zhou dynasty, having carried a white flag as his banner over 3,000 years ago. Even then, flags were largely a symbol during times of war, as opposing armies would carry their flags into battle to easily distinguish who they were fighting for. It’s a more recent development that flags have become a symbol of nationhood and patriotism that’s not necessarily dependent on war.
8. Some Languages Have Flags
The most common flags you see are for nations, but people have designed flags for pretty much any concept you can think of. Sometimes, country flags will be used as visual shorthand for languages. For example, the flag of France might denote French, or the flag of Russia might be used for Russian. This in itself can cause controversy, however, because countries don’t “own” languages.
Other times, however, a flag will be created specifically for languages. For example, Esperanto has its own flag that visually represents the language’s mission of uniting the world. There have also been attempts to make flags for all French-speaking or all Spanish-speaking people, but they have not reached the same ubiquity as national flags.
9. The Union Jack Is All Over The World
The Union Jack is the flag of the United Kingdom (there are some who say the name Union Jack only refers to the flag when flown at sea, but never mind that). The flag was designed by combining elements from St. Patrick’s Saltire (representative of Ireland), St. Andrew’s Saltire (representative of Scotland) and St. George’s Cross (representative of England).
The most important aspect of the Union Jack is just how many flags it appears on. While many former colonies shed the Union Jack once they claimed independence, there are still plenty of places that feature it, usually in the upper-left corner. A non-comprehensive list of flags that have the Union Jack includes Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, three provinces of Canada, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Tuvalu and Fiji.
10. Two Different Countries Have Had The Same Flag
Every once in a while, two countries will accidentally stumble upon the same idea for a flag. One of the most famous examples of this was Haiti and Liechtenstein arriving at the 1936 Olympics and noticing that their flags — a blue rectangle over a red rectangle — were identical. This didn’t last long, as Liechtenstein unveiled a new flag the following year with a crown added in the upper-left corner. There are still a number of similar flags out there, though, like Chad and Romania’s vertical-striped blue, yellow and red, which look pretty much exactly the same.