Why is there patriotism only when you can see it?
October 29, 2012 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Why are you supposed to take the flag down at night?

I get that you are--and if you don't, it should be illuminated--but how did that get to be a thing?

I mean, everything represented by the United States is still represented by the United States at night, amirite?
posted by mwachs to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My understanding is it is an issue of respect. Here is a FAQ that gives a little bit of background concerning how the flag code came into being. There are no real penalties for violating the flag code if you are a civilian. It is more like a codification of best practices to properly respect the flag and all that it stands for.
posted by Michele in California at 2:30 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

According to this GPO report, (pdf p.28) the flag is flown 24 hours a day in certain places, such as over the Capitol (which began during WWI); the same report says: "Many other places fly the flag at night as a patriotic gesture by custom."
posted by willbaude at 2:46 PM on October 29, 2012

I would've guessed that it might have something to do with the flag getting wet from dew. I seem to recall people in the past sometimes taking down the flag when it rained.
posted by blueberry at 2:52 PM on October 29, 2012

If nothing else they'd last a lot longer, not needing to deal with dew.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:29 PM on October 29, 2012

Many of the flag code practices were developed before the advent of good quality synthetic fabrics in the sixties. Prior to that, display flags were often made from silk because it's tough and comparatively colorfast, but definitely not mildew-resistant.

On military installations, the main flag is still raised at reveille and lowered at dusk to "The Star-Spangled Banner." All outdoor activity on base stops (or is supposed to) during both ceremonies.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:41 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Indoor display flags are typically rayon, or cotton; occasionally silk. Outdoor flags are heavy cotton, nylon, sometimes nylon-wool -- and the fabric meets government specs for durability , color-fastness (mainly from rain), and fade-resistance (mainly from sun). (Meeting the spec meant they were good quality and could be sold on government bids.) You get a longer life for the flag if you bring it in out of weather and night-time when it can't be seen.

That said, the Flag Code is advisory, and do what you like.

I used to be in the flag manufacturing business, and heavy use & abuse was good for business.
posted by lathrop at 4:23 PM on October 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure how much it has to do with the origin, but it at least produces the practical effect that if you want to declare your patriotism with a flag, you have to put a little bit of effort in: you can't say "oh yes I'm very patriotic, I spent three minutes hoisting a flag in my yard two years ago and haven't spared it a thought since".

I have seen the converse of this in Northern Ireland: unionists had tied Union Jacks to streetlights and left them there indefinitely. After they've been out a few years out in all weathers, the impression given by these flags is about as "patriotic" as using them for toilet paper.
posted by pont at 5:51 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I seem to vaguely recall these rules:
  • flags should be taken down in bad weather
  • flags should be taken down at night, unless
  • the flag has a spotlight on it
So, if my recollection is correct, I think up at night are ones with fancy display lights illuminating them.
posted by sarah_pdx at 6:26 PM on October 29, 2012

Encyclopedia Brown says that flying the flag at night, in the rain, or upside down are signs of distress (which is how he knows the native Americans have taken over the fort or some such nonsense).
posted by klangklangston at 11:31 PM on October 29, 2012

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