As we move into the summer, Americans are sure to see more red, white and blue. These colors, which represent the U.S. flag, are synonymous with freedom, hope — and America’s annual July 4 festivities. But as we approach Independence Day, there’s another patriotic holiday worth reflecting on: Flag Day.
For those who don’t know, National Flag Day is celebrated on June 14, just weeks before America remembers the nation’s independence from England by shooting off fireworks and hosting backyard barbeques.
The purpose and meaning of Flag Day is a bit different, though, as it commemorates the day the U.S. approved the official design for the nation’s first flag — an event that unfolded 242 years ago in 1777.
What Does the Red, White & Blue Stand For?
Despite the widespread familiarity Americans have with the U.S. flag, some might not know the meaning behind the stars and stripes. When it comes to the colors, there’s apparently nothing official on the record about their meaning.
That said, Britannica noted that Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, offered up a touching description that brings meaning to the color scheme. The colors were actually chosen when the Continental Congress sought a seal for the country. It was at that point that red, white and blue were chosen.
“White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue…signifies vigilence [sic], perseverence [sic] & justice,” Thompson said.
As for the American flag itself, the initial design was first selected on June 14, 1777, by the Second Continental Congress. The flag at that time had 13 stripes made of red and white and 13 stars to represent the union. The stars were white and the background on that part of the flag was blue.
Today, the flag’s 50 stars are representative of the 50 states in the union and, as PBS notes, the 13 red and white stripes are representative of the original 13 colonies.
What’s the History Behind Flag Day?
So, with all that fascinating flag history under our belt now, what’s the history behind Flag Day? As it turns out, it wasn’t until years later, though, that the Flag Day celebration took root. Britannica has more:
The idea to set aside a day to honour the national flag came from several sources. Bernard J. Cigrand, a Wisconsin school teacher, in 1885 urged his students to observe June 14 as “Flag Birthday.” He later wrote an essay published in a Chicago newspaper that urged Americans to proclaim this date as the day to celebrate the flag. In 1888 William T. Kerr of Pennsylvania founded the American Flag Day Association of Western Pennsylvania, an organization to which he dedicated his life. A lesser-known claim is that of George Morris of Connecticut, who is said to have organized the first formal celebration of the day in Hartford in 1861.
It wasn’t until the 1900s that the day was officially proclaimed as being June 14. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the Flag Resolution in 1916 and then Congress decided on August 3, 1949, to designate National Flag Day as falling on June 14 each year, Military.com reported.
Flag Day isn’t an official federal holiday, but U.S. presidents put out a statement every year reminding the public of the day’s importance.
The most recent Flag Day proclamation came in the form of a White House statement in June 2018 reminding people of the history behind the historic day of remembrance.
“More than two centuries ago, on June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress formally adopted the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of our new Republic,” the statement said. “Through the many triumphs and trials of our Nation, our flag has reflected our heritage of liberty and embodied the American virtues of bravery, justice, and loyalty.”
The proclamation went on to express gratitude for service men and women who have given their all to defend America, noting that the flag is a sign of gratitude to those who have served.
“Today, we celebrate the ideals of our country’s founding, which are represented so proudly by the broad stripes and bright stars — that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the text read.
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