Why isn't Flag Day a federal holiday?

Flag Day, June 14, commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the Stars and Stripes in 1777, and is celebrated by citizens across the nation. But it's not a full-blown federal holiday.

Jeff Morehead/Herald-Press/AP
From left, VFW Post 2689 Commander Mike Smith, Quartermaster Leslie Ackermann, and Chaplain/Service Officer Mike Harrell salute as Past Commander Jerry Walling raises the flag to half-staff on Wednesday, in honor of Flag Day, in Huntington, Indiana. Flag Day on Thursday, June 14, commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the US flag by the Continental Congress in 1777.

Today is Flag Day 2012. Flag Day, June 14, commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the US flag by the Continental Congress in 1777. It’s celebrated across the nation by ordinary citizens hanging out their red-white-and-blue Stars and Stripes. President Harry Truman made sure of that in 1949 when he signed a congressional resolution setting June 14 as Flag Day’s official date. But it is not a full-blown federal holiday. Why is that?

The short answer is that Flag Day was not included in the 1968 Uniform Holiday Act. This legislation set the framework for the 11 official federal holidays and multiple three-day weekends that US workers (and mattress discounters, new car dealers, and other sale-oriented retailers) know and love today.

The longer answer is that Flag Day is a bit of an orphan holiday. It does not have the historical cachet of Washington’s Birthday. (No, that February day off is not a federal “Presidents’ Day.” Look it up.) Nor does it have the backing of organized interest groups that helped produce Labor Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Here’s our take on some of the headwinds Flag Day faced, importance-wise:

Bad timing

June 14 is almost midway between Memorial Day and July 4. That’s a lot of red, white, and blue in a six-week period. Besides being the middle in this patriotic sandwich, Flag Day falls at a time when kids get out of school, and summer plans truly start. Running up Old Glory is a task that can get bypassed if you’ve just spent two hours looking for junior’s goggles so you can go to the pool.

Every day is Flag Day

To some extent Americans aren’t in a period when they need to be reminded of the flag’s significance. Flag Day first took hold as a local event at the beginning of the Civil War, when the North needed a symbol around which to rally. It rose in popularity during the World Wars, for the same reason. Right now the US is at the tail end of a long involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The struggle against Al Qaeda has been going on for years. Flags came out on 9/11 and in many cases have stayed out. Think of all the highway overpasses bedecked with small flags and tended by local veterans’ groups.

It's the people's symbol

The US flag does not represent federal Washington. It does not represent the power of the state. It represents the assembly of citizens into a government of them, by them, and for them. The citizens of no other nation on earth fly their flags everywhere they live and go, according to Marc Leepson, author of the 2005 book “Flag: An American Biography.”

Thus federal and state legislators have not been instrumental in the flag’s evolution, according to Mr. Leepson.

“By and large it has been individual American businessmen, teachers, journalists, politicians and private organizations – primary but not exclusively veterans’ groups and patriotic organizations – that have developed and pushed for many of the important changes in the evolution of the flag’s cultural importance,” Leepson writes.

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