I got curious about the flag today. I like to display my flag on the 4th of July. I like when other people display their flags on the 4th of July too. In fact, on the 4th of July, I have the sense that we are all in this together, all united, all red, white and blue, and proud of ourselves. It’s fleeting. I try to enjoy it while I can.

So I got curious about the flag. I knew there were a lot of rules, but I’d never looked them up before. Now I know that there are A LOT of rules. You could spend an hour reading through them, watching the little animated cartoon about how to fold the flag, reading the actual code and all the FAQs.

You could do all that, or you can just read my j-list of 10 Surprising Rules Concerning the American Flag. (Pick me, pick me!)

  1. You don’t have to destroy your flag if it touches the ground. Guess that’s just a myth. If it gets dirty, you’re supposed to wash it. By hand. With mild soap.
  2. Or, according to ushistory.org, many dry cleaners will clean your flag for free. I don’t know why that surprises and delights me but it does. It also makes me want to go under cover and test out the claim. Not because I’m cynical, but because I like going under cover.
  3. When your flag is ready to be retired, it “should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” But not by you. Flags are apparently made of toxic material that will surely kill you if you pop it into your fireplace and respectfully burn it yourself. Call the Boy Scouts. They’re professionals.
  4. The flag cannot be worn as apparel – that includes the picture of a flag on a t-shirt. “According to the Flag Code, a flag is anything by which the average person seeing the same without deliberation may believe the same to represent the flag.” That includes bathing suits, bandannas, patches on your Jr. High big bell Levis. (I just dated myself, didn’t I? Not only did I wear big bell Levis, I went to Jr. High. They didn’t even have middle school when I was a youngin’. We toughed it out in the mean halls of Jr. High, baby.)
  5. If your flag is displayed after sundown, it must be properly illuminated. I knew that rule, but I forgot. I’m including it here in case you forgot.
  6. Also on ushistory.org, there is a list of holidays on which the flag should be displayed. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are included. So is Easter. So is Christmas. (These are officially on my list of days I don’t think the flag should be displayed. Join me in my rebel cause!)
  7. Though not specifically addressed in the flag code, flag tattoos are discouraged. How about a nice eagle, the code suggests (sweetly).
  8. It is not recommended that you make a flag out of icing and put it atop a cake. Eating the flag is, it would seem, a most UNDIGNIFIED means of destruction.
  9. The flag postage stamp is against the rules, since according to the code, “The flag should never be used in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.”
  10. The American Flag Code “has no provision for enforcement. No fines, no penalties. There is nothing law enforcement can do when the Flag Code is broken.”

Wait, what?

I am reminded of Barbossa in the Pirates of the Caribbean describing the Pirate Code. “The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”

Happy 4th of July, everyone!

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