Flag Day 2024: A Complete Guide to the American Tradition

Flag Day 2024: A Complete Guide to the American Tradition

Every June, the people of Waubeka celebrate Flag Day, a holiday hidden to many Americans, in honor of perhaps the country’s most enduring symbol.

But this unincorporated Wisconsin city, about 55 miles north of Milwaukee, takes the day seriously. Eventually, thanks to a stubborn teacher at one school, they came to claim that this is the birthplace of Flag Day.

Here are a few things you should know about this obscure flag-waving holiday.

What is Flag Day?

Flag Day commemorates June 14, 1777, when the Continental Congress decided on the composition of the national banner: “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14 as Flag Day in 1916, President Harry S. Truman signed it into an official holiday in 1949, and another congressional act in 1966 made the day Flag Week.

What about the Fourth of July?

Yes, the flag is used prominently on Independence Day. But David Janik, a second-generation Waubeka native and president of the Flag Day Foundation, says the emblem is important enough to deserve its own day.

“July 4th, we’re celebrating our independence,” Janik said. “But on Flag Day, we’re celebrating the birth of our flag, which is the symbol of our country, the symbol that is seen all around the world as the helper, the people who won’t leave you out in the cold.”

Why Waubeka?

On June 14, 1885, 18-year-old Bernard J. Cigrand, a Waubeka native who taught at Stony Hill School, planted a flag on an inkstand and challenged his students to write essays about what the flag meant to them. The following year, Mr. Cigrand went to Chicago to study dentistry, but he never stopped campaigning for a National Day to celebrate the flag.

Cigrand’s dream came true in 1916 when Wilson issued the Proclamation.

Although he died in 1932, Waubeka never forgot Cigrand, and in 1946, local leaders established the city’s Flag Day celebration, which has continued ever since.

Was there another “first” Flag Day?

Yes. The first person to mention Flag Day was a man named George Morris, who organized such a commemoration in Hartford, Connecticut, on June 14, 1861. The commemoration featured patriotic programs and prayers for the success of the Union Army in the nascent Civil War, but the celebration was apparently never repeated.

Pennsylvanians would challenge Cigrand’s coronation as the “Father of Flag Day.” Pittsburgh native William T. Carr began his activism in 1888 and became national president of the American Flag Day Foundation a year later, a position he held for half a century. Carr was one of the supporters when President Truman signed the Flag Day Act.

As for the anticipated friendly competition, Janik said his father, the late Jack Janik, “took care of that.” The elder Janik traveled to Washington to lobby Congress, which passed a resolution in 2004 to name Waubeka “the birthplace of Flag Day.”

What about the essays?

There are parades, bands, patriotic awards, military honor guards, and accessories, plus a dog named Harlow who turned eight on Flag Day and wore a red, white, and blue straw hat on his head.

In the spirit of Cigrand and his students 139 years ago, the Waubeka Flag Day celebration features an annual essay contest that draws submissions from across the nation, this year from New York to Nevada and Wisconsin to Texas.

The Stars and Stripes “represent a nation where immigrants like my grandparents are welcomed, where diversity is celebrated and where justice is present for all,” writes Neel Sood, a fourth-grader from Bridgewater, New Jersey.

Ryan Spang, a seventh-grader from Adel, Wisconsin, writes, “the American flag represents unity. We are one nation, united by our similarities and differences. We support people in our communities in times of need and we cheer them on in times of achievement.”

Why isn’t today a holiday?

Flag Day is different from Thanksgiving, Memorial Day and several other federal holidays that Americans typically take off.

Instead, it is officially recognized nationwide, offices remain open and mail continues to be delivered. Only Pennsylvania makes the day a state holiday, allowing residents to stay home instead of going to work or school.

But you don’t need to have another barbecue in your yard to feel the Waubeka love.

“Our passion for the flag here is very deep,” Janik said. “The flag is the symbol of our country — it symbolizes individualism, success, loss, daring, chivalry. People need a compass to guide them, and the flag is a great compass.”

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