What is it about flags that can elicit so much emotion?
Flags aren’t the only symbols of nationalism or clan-feeling. Yet all around the world, the one which provokes the most feeling is undeniably that colored strip of cloth.
One hundred years after our first flag was adopted by act of Congress on June 14, 1777, the first Flag Day was observed.
You’ve probably read that Gen. George Washington asked seamstress Betsy Ross to sew a flag similar to the Grand Union battle flag of 1776. That was a circle with 13 white stars in the canton (upper left corner) against a blue background, and a field (background color) of 13 stripes alternating red and white, first representing the number states. Over time, the stripes stuck to a practical 13, and the stars performed that function.
But did you know:
Wood. The earliest flags discovered by archaeologists date more than two millennia and were made of wood, metal, or stone.
Rome, again. As far as we know, the earliest textile flag appeared around the Third Century C.E. and came from that civilization from which modern democracies derive, ancient Rome.
Colors. Red, perhaps symbolizing bravery and strength, is the most popular flag color, appearing on nearly 75 percent of flags around the world. White is a close second, said to symbolize peace and honesty. Blue (truth and justice) appears on about half of national flags. Some nations use green (hope and love) to symbolize religious beliefs.
Signals. Flags were used throughout history, including by navies at sea, as signals for communication across great distances.
Right write. The hoist is the edge of the flag nearest the pole. Flags are generally hoisted on the side corresponding with writing — so for cultures whose languages are written from left to right, flags are also hoisted on the left, and vice versa.
No size fits all. Flag size and shape are anything but uniform, with some extra wide and others square. The biggest flag ever flown is said to be a U.S. flag at the 1886 Olympic torch relay at Hoover Dam — 255 feet by 505 feet. According to the United Kingdom Flag Institute, the biggest constantly flying is in Brazil, at 230 feet by 328 feet.
More than a simple piece of cloth, perhaps what a national flag most represents is common history and ideals. So to celebrate Flag Day, may we set aside any differences and focus on what unites us.
Today’s weird word: Vexillology — the study of flags.
Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.