Flag Etiquette

A flag, regardless of what country it represents, stands for a symbol of that nation and the people who live there. In the United States, flags are typically flown at important state or government buildings, but citizens themselves also sometimes feel the desire to display their country’s flag as a symbol of patriotism. While the notion itself is backed by good intentions, things can go poorly if the flag is not displayed or hung in the correct way.  

That is why it is important to be aware of proper flag etiquette to fly your flag in the correct way.  

Hanging Your Flag

The American Flag should be flown from sunrise to sunset, either on buildings or on outdoor flagstaffs. Proper etiquette calls for the flag to be taken down when it gets dark outside; however, the flag can remain flying if it is illuminated through the hours of darkness. Flags should also be taken down during inclement weather, unless it is an all-weather flag.  

When the flag is hung on a flagpole, the blue field that represents the union should be at the peak of the staff. When displayed vertically, such as being hung from a building, the blue field representing the union should be in the left-hand corner. A flag displayed in the window of a home or office should have the blue square in the left corner from the view of people outside. 

Each country has different flag etiquette rules in place. For example, the national flag of Canada is flown with the tip of the maple leaf facing up. When hung vertically, the tip of the maple leaf should point to the left. 





Germany, as well as most other European countries, has a flag etiquette rule that is the same as the U.S., which says that a flag should only be flown from sunrise to sunset. The only exception for leaving it hoisted through the night is if it will be illuminated through the hours of darkness.  

While countries may have similar flag etiquette rules, they can vary from place to place. If you are unsure of flag etiquette for an international flag you own, be sure to do research before you fly it. 

Flag at Half-Staff

Occasionally the flag is expected to be flown at half-staff, and this typically happens when an important government member passes, or a great tragedy befalls the country. This is done to represent mourning and respect. The most recent example of this occurred on February 22, 2021, when the United States declared that 500,000 people had died from the COVID-19 virus. As a sobering day for the U.S., President Biden declared that flags should be flown at half-staff for the next five days. 






In Russia, when there are mourning days, protocol is like that of the U.S. Their flag is to be flown at half-staff, but with the addition of two black ribbons added to the hoist 

Retiring a Flag

When an American flag is torn, worn, or otherwise in bad condition, that flag is no longer a respectful symbol to be displayed and should be retired in an appropriate way. Multiple organizations hold flag retirement ceremonies, such as The American Legion, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts. These ceremonies typically dispose of a flag by burning it in a respectful manner. If you can’t drop your flag off to one of the forementioned groups, you can hold your own, private ceremony – as long as it’s conducted in a respectful manner. 






In the Philippines, it is also customary to respectfully burn an old or tattered flag. Patriotic music is played, and a speaker is there to tell of the importance of the rite. A woman official is also present during the ceremony, and should be standing close to the burning flag. She represents Inang Bayan, or “Motherland,” and her presence serves as a reminder that a woman made the first Filipino flag. 







Displaying Multiple Flags

When displaying multiple international flags together in one place, the flags should all be of the same size, as a sign of respect. The host country’s flag is always displayed first, followed by the remaining flags in alphabetical order. These flags should all be flown on separate staffs at the same height. International flags flown together often represent unity and togetherness. 







Respecting the Flag

Peter Kirkwood, Protocol Officer at The International Center, said, “Flags aren’t decoration, they’re symbols that are used to represent people or countries.” If people respect the flag and the flag etiquette, then they will be able to showcase their pride for their country in the best way possible.  

“Ask questions when needed,” Kirkwood said. Flag etiquette can be tricky to understand as there are so many things to remember, so clarification can be helpful in many circumstances. You want the flag to be seen as a respectful representation, rather than making a mistake and dishonoring the flag and the nation it represents. 

Wherever you are, if you have an American or International flag, fly it with pride using these etiquette tips. Flags are a symbol of so much for a country and the people who live there. Showcase your flag and share your respect for the country you love. 

The International Center has a flag program in place, which consists of 193 flags for individuals or organizations to borrow and display! If you are interested in this program, check out the link here: https://internationalcenter.org/flag-services/ 


By Maddie Eden