Throughout the world, when a flag flies at half-mast (or half-staff), it’s a symbol of mourning, respect, or distress. However, each country has its owns traditions and rules when it comes to flying the flag at half-mast. The history of the gesture stretches back to the 17th century. Many think that the extra space on the pole is symbolically reserved for an invisible flag of death, although many customs contradict this.
Why Is The US Flag At Half-Mast?
In the US, it’s actually a misnomer to say that the flag is at half-mast—at least most of the time. If the flag is on land, the proper term is at half-staff. The term half-mast only refers to flags on ships at sea. When a flag flies at half-staff in the US, it’s because the president has issued an executive order to do so. Usually, such an order honors important government figures when they die.
If the US flag is at half-staff, all other flags that fly alongside it, such as state flags, must also be lowered. The length of time for which a flag remains lowered depends on who has died. There are occasions when a flag is lowered in commemoration of an event, or for the deaths of multiple people—for example, Memorial Day or September 11. On a state level, governors have the option to order flags to fly at half-staff if a former or current state official or an active service member has died.
Why Is My Flag At Half-Mast?
While “half-staff” is the term in the US, in Canada and the UK, it’s okay to use the term half-mast. Since the UK’s monarchy is still part of Canada’s constitutional structure, the two countries will occasionally fly the flag at half-mast for the same occasion—for example, the death of a monarch or any member of the Royal Family. Otherwise, the rules are somewhat similar to the US. The Royal Standard flag in the UK is never flown at half-mast, since it represents the monarch. Upon the death of a monarch, the throne immediately passes to the successor, so the flag always stays at the top of the pole.
Depending on what country you’re from, the flag could fly at half-mast for any number of reasons. Generally, most government websites or Twitter accounts will publish alerts when flags are lowered. Use the web to check with your local government if you’re wondering why you’re seeing flags at half-mast.