Flagging the Lost Holiday & A Gallery of past Flag Day Joys

A Flag Day postcard issued the year it was proclaimed a holiday, marking the year it commemorates.

You could have had off from work today – – if only you made some waves. You could be standing outside, rallying it up, with some blue-red dyed cake in hand.

Summertime starts with Memorial Day, ends with Labor Day and crescendos with Independence Day and although we’ve every right to hit the holiday high road today, on one of this season’s quartet of patriotic holidays, any call to celebrate June 14th just sort of flags. Sure there are some pockets of places, small towns like Quincy, Massachusetts where a gaggle will wave and march, but around the rest of the country, people are working, at home or on the job, in summer school, on the unemployment line, or having to take a “personal” day, all because its just…June 14th.

 Forgive us, forlorn little Flag Day. Your colors don’t run but you’ve long waved as the lost holiday.

Back when the school year lasted into mid-June, Flag Day was the last holiday kids celebrated in class. And if your birthday was June 13th, let’s say, you brought in cupcakes iced in red, white or blue.  It was the closest holiday you could grasp onto. At the very least, it used to get the old folks to bring down the barrels of Independence Day bunting from the attic a few weeks early. And that may be part of the problem: Flag Day is a pale but otherwise indistinguishable Independence Day.

Someone on the Holidays Council screwed up.

The effort to “celebrate” the day the United States flag was officially adopted by the Second Continental Congress in 1777 may explain the indifference to Flag Day.

An old-school flag factory, the big day upon them.

Americans worked in factories and on farms, gave their lives fighting wars and risked everything to become an independent nation for those other three summer holidays. As emotionally powerful the sight of the symbol is, a flag is, ultimately, just colored cloth. Or was it the effort to market and profit off patriotism? Hartford Connecticut‘s George Morris came up with the idea two months after the Civil War started and local dry-goods stores fanned it, one store bragging it could manufacture “any size Flag wanted.”

As any successful commercial exploiter will tell you, it’s all a matter of good timing. And this was.

Previously, flags were just used to mark government property but when the Confederate States unfurled its new Stars and Bars flag, the rival Stars and Stripes became an impulse buy in the Union States. Flag mania fluttered. Soldiers got the Medal of Honor for protecting it and one Confederate was executed for tearing it. Cross-marketing for local flag companies, a Hartford newspaper editor tried to sell the day as a mini-4th: “Picnics, excursions, rides, a thousand ways of celebration will suggest themselves.”

Back when the school year lasted into mid-June, Flag Day was the last holiday kids celebrated in class.

Nobody did anything, however, except parade and display the flag, then go back to work or home for dinner.

Oh sure, there was some stirrings, here and there. It especially limped along in schools. Just before being let out for their summer vacations, children were lined up into tidy rows or made to recite patriotic poems.

 

Flag Day repackaged for festivities at the Betsy Ross House.

Flag Day repackaged for festivities at the Betsy Ross House.

Having dutifully cut out their construction paper cherries for George Washington’s Birthday in February and stared at the flag every morning with the Pledge of Allegiance, it was just more of the same adult inculcation to them, just days before they could escape their lessons and scoldings and run free for two months.

The one place in the nation where Flag Day is the big day is at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia. To perhaps escape the old stigma of Flag Day as a big nothing, they’ve created their own modern logo – and even changed the name of it to “Flag Fest,” to draw in the crowds. One of the the City of Brotherly Love‘s biggest tourist attractions, the site and its history is inextricably tied to Betsy Ross, the woman believed to have created the first flag – but that is a whole, other story to be told.

The Flag Day Cake: never to be confused with a blueberry pie.

A strawberry vanilla buttercream cake for today.

Some giddiness was once worked up among the nation’s housewives with new recipes for “Flag Day Cake,” a creamier, sweeter concoction than just some plain old Independence Day blueberry pie. Cake nuts still concoct these in some places.

But the single biggest problem with Flag Day was that only so much excitement could be worked up over fabric, however colorful and emotionally stirring it might be for an hour or so. The more meaningful emotions symbolized by the flag were already taken by those three other summer patriotic holidays. 

Memorial Day had first dibs on the iconic flag.

Originally, on Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, as it was called in the South, people went to cemeteries to decorate the graves of soldiers who had died, in memorializing them.

On the Fourth of July, practically from 1776 onwards, there were fireworks displays big and small, picnics and gatherings of families and neighbors and friends.

Labor Day already made use of the flag too.

On Labor Day, there was always a parade of the various organized labor union groups marching – teachers, fireman, etc.

Not only did nobody concoct anything unique to do on Flag Day except hang out the flag for display – or wave it, the flag was already hijacked as the symbol of, you guessed it – Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.

After the North and South patched things up, there was even less momentum to rally around it. The fight to uphold it, at least within the northern states, was over. In the southern states, it could still be a touchy issue.

Even though in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed June 14 as Flag Day, and Congress would recognize it as a holiday, the federal government never got so enthusiastically behind it enough that it suggested everyone should stay home from work so they could hang out their flag or stand on corners to watch people wave it.

Perhaps all hope is not lost for this sad little holiday. In fact, some fast-thinking entrepreneurs might right now be hard at work concocting a whole new “holiday season” for the warm months, in contrast to the big Holiday Season in the cold months.

Thanksgiving marks the start of The Holiday Season, which run the entire month of December, over the bump of the day’s last year and even taking in New Year‘s Day. People don’t get anything done but shopping and partying from as early as November 28 until January 2.  That’s about 33 days or a few less.

Maybe the official “Summer Holiday Season” can begin on Memorial Day with Flag Day as a sort of Christmas Eve kind of day, and end on Independence Day. That’s about 34 days.

Inexplicable traditions have begun in this country before.

Like Flag Day.

There is one last chance to make Flag Day fly like it never has.

Move it to January 14 – and extend The Holiday Season. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

To illustrate the odds faced by those in the past in their efforts to keep Flag Day afloat, here’s a gallery of merchandised Flag Day postcards of the past:

The one thing anyone could do on Flag Day.

Flag Day fashions.

The Flag Day Police” “Say Buddy, where’s your Old Glory?”

If nothing else, a street fight might work up some enthusiasm.

More Flag Day shenanigans.

A very happy couple celebrating Flag Day.

Kids were always rooked into keeping up old Flag Day.

A Flag Day kiddie dance.

Kids used as Flag Day propaganda weapons.

A somewhat manic Empire State Flag Day adherent.

The perfect Flag Day gift for loved ones.

An all-Patriotic Holidays Postcard, in case you failed to mail it in May – you had until September.

A shield was not enough.

Doing it up right at a pro-Flag Day household.

Going to town on Flag Day.

You must celebrate Flag Day….or else.

Everyone gave it their best try.

More Flag Day enthusiasm.


Categories: Americana, Flag Day, History, U.S. Holidays

Tags: , , , , , , ,

5 replies »

  1. I love the picture of the “happy couple”! Now THAT makes me want to go out and celebrate!

    The idea of moving Flag Day to January 14 works for me… I would do ANYTHING to extend that holiday season. Perhaps we should just follow many of the Europeans and not give in on the festivities until Epiphany? Whatever it takes to make Christmas last, I’m willing to do it.

    One more note on Flag Day… This particular Flag Day would have been the 94th birthday of my much beloved, much-missed and perfectly English stepfather, so it is always a day with a happy association for me.

    Happy Flag Day!

  2. Another good article! I love your caption “very happy couple”, that will keep me chuckling to myself all day!
    I bet if fashion designers got involved with promoting Flag Day, if they could make the colors red, white and blue together as a fashion statement, that would certainly be a capitalist sell out on the flag. Thank goodness they can’t or will not try it!
    I kind of like it not being not being an over indulged holiday to be ruined into a drunken hang over of an excuse the next day at work for so many people.
    We who celebrate it or honor it that day by putting our flag out for the day and then bringing it in at night, unless your a true purest in honoring the flag, know at night if the flag is to stay out all night, there is to be a light shining on it. A quiet celebration can be just as memorial as a loud one.
    Just a quick note on that”happy couple”, I like how she is holding his hat and their arms and hands are gently touching. Do you think their somber faces were hiding something? A picture, and a thousand stories…
    Happy (post) Flag Day!

    • What a great response – thanks. And I do see what you mean, the value of it as a quiet, personal sort of holiday that simply makes a statement without the need for speeches. You are the second one to comment on the ‘happy couple.’ Anyone’s guess on what was going on there. I remember once seeing a single picture of my great-grandmother smiling – suddenly my perception of her from looking dour and consistently unsmiling suddenly snapped in an instant and I realized she might be grimacing for the camera or, at least had stretches of feeling happy. It’s literally a snapshot of a second – can be so misleading. I think that’s why a great photographer someone captures what endures, what is the essence of a person, whether they’re smiling or grimacing at any given moment.

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