History and Meaning of the Military Flag Folding Ceremony

If you have ever attended a U.S. military funeral or watched the U.S. flag being lowered at the end of the day, you may have noticed the ceremonial way that the flag is folded before being presented to loved ones or taken in for the evening. 

The flag folding ceremony is full of meaning and symbolism. Prior to a flag being presented or stored, flag handlers will fold it in half lengthwise twice and then fold it in triangles until the other end is reached. The result is a triangular “pillow” formed by thirteen folds with only the blue starred field showing.  The thirteen folds represent the original thirteen colonies of the United States. Each fold also carries its own meaning. Flag ceremony scripts attribute different symbolism to each fold, including freedom, life, religious beliefs, honoring mothers and fathers, and honoring those who serve in the Armed Forces. 

The flag is folded so that only the blue starred field shows. This is because the stars on the blue field represent states that U.S. veterans served while in uniform.  Even the shape of the folded flag is symbolic. It resembles a cocked hat, representing the soldiers, sailors, and marines who served in the Revolutionary War, as well as the many who have served in the U.S. armed forces since then.

The flag folding ceremony is ultimately a form of respect. The flag is folded in a specific way because it provides a dignified ceremonial touch that distinguishes folding a flag from folding an ordinary object such as a blanket or sheet. The ceremonial meanings attributed to each fold have developed over time into a rich tradition.

For more information and examples of flag ceremonies and scripts:

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