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Everything you always wanted to know about the American flag

Novembre 2014
A novembre in America si festeggia il giorno del Ringraziamento, Thanksgiving. Una festa che più americana non si può. Un’altra icona è l’adorata bandiera. In pochi lo sanno, ma ci sono delle regole ben precise per utilizzare the American flag, eccone qualcuna...

di Talitha Linehan

File audio:

How to fold the American flag
How to fold the American flag
Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in 1969
Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in 1969

Speaker: Chuck Rolando (Standard American accent)

The American flag is everywhere! It is flown in almost every country. It’s on the top of the tallest mountains. It’s even in space. If you go to America, you will see the flag in many places too – on stamps, uniforms, cars and buildings. But you will probably never see the flag on the ground. That’s because it’s against the rules.


The United States Flag Code is a set of guidelines about the flag. The code says that the American flag should always be on the top of the flagpole, with other flags underneath. It should never touch the ground. And nobody should ever step on it.   
You should raise the American flag at sunrise and lower it at sunset. The flag should never be flown in darkness. So if you want to fly your flag at night, you must illuminate it. The flag should also not be flown in rain or bad weather.


Until 1989, it was illegal to burn the American flag. Today, people sometimes burn the flag or fly it upside down in public as a political protest. Most Americans find this very offensive. It is, however, OK to burn flags that are old and tattered. The code says that people should dispose of old flags in a dignified manner, either by burying or burning them.


According to the code, the flag should never be printed on cushions, napkins, boxes and other things that people use temporarily and then discard. Also, the flag should not be on clothing, bedding or drapery.
Many Americans ignore these rules, probably because they don’t know about them. If you ever go to a Fourth of July celebration, you will see people wearing t-shirts and using napkins printed with the American flag. They consider these things patriotic.


The US Flag Code is federal law. There is, however, no penalty for breaking the code. That’s because enforcing it would interfere with Americans’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Americans love their flag, which is also known as the “Stars and Stripes,” “Old Glory” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” They even have a day dedicated to it: Flag Day is on June 14th. It commemorates the adoption of the American flag in 1777. Many cities have a Flag Day parade and some organizations have flag retirement ceremonies – where they ceremoniously dispose of old flags.  


Americans have very precise rules about how to fold their flag. Two people hold the flag so that it’s parallel to the ground, no part of the flag must touch the ground. They fold it twice lengthwise. They then make several triangular folds – until only a triangle of blue stars is visible: this is the portion of the flag denoting honour. Some organizations have their own special flag-folding ceremony. The National Flag Foundation’s ceremony involves making ten folds. It says that each fold represents a different virtue: liberty, unity, justice, perseverance, hardiness, valour, purity, innocence, sacrifice and honour.

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The Star-Spangled Banner. La bandiera adorna di stelle. Questo è uno dei nomi della bandiera americana ma è anche il titolo dell’inno nazionale. L’inno descrive la battaglia navale di Fort Henry del 1814 durante la guerra tra gli Stati Uniti e l’Inghilterra. La visione della bandiera americana (che all’epoca aveva 15 stelle, e non le 50 di oggi) ha ispirato Francis Scott Keys a scrivere una poesia, che è poi diventata l’inno nazionale.  

Stars and stripes. Oggi la bandiera ha 13 strisce che rappresentano le 13 colonie che nel 1776 dichiararono l’indipendenza dalla Gran Bretagna. Le stelle rappresentano, invece, ognuno degli Stati degli Stati Uniti: a oggi sono 50. Le ultime aggiunte sono state: Alaska nel 1959 e Hawaii nel 1960.