The Chilean flag

Chile’s flag in and of itself isn’t particularly remarkable. That’s not an insult – it’s a very nice flag, quite like the flag of Texas, but it’s not one of those flags with crazy colors or a unique shape. It’s pretty standard, as flags go.

texas flag

Not the Chilaen flag. This one's Texas. Source: The Trucking Tourist

The laws surrounding it, however, are interesting to me. In the US, I really don’t know about any flag-related laws. I’m pretty sure the only time I’ve ever even considered them was in my 10th grade civics class where we had to debate flag-burning. My parents would put our flag up every year for the 4th of July, and maybe for Memorial Day too (I can’t remember. Clearly this wasn’t a big deal to me), and after September 11th lots of people drove around with flags on their cars.

It’s those car flags that I thought of when I heard one of Chile’s laws about flag-flying. See, there’s a law which says every building must fly the Chilean flag on May 21st, September 18th and September 19th, the major national holidays. A fellow blogger has a handy guide for exactly how to fly the flag, although reading the law I see the full instructions are even more detailed – the flag pole must be white and of a certain minimum length for example.

Chilean flag

This one's Chile! Source: Mark Scott Johnson

What does that have to do with US flags on cars? Well, the law doesn’t just say when to fly the flag. It specifies that you may NOT fly it any other day without the “corresponding authorization.” I didn’t, in my brief perusal of the eye-paining text, see any instructions regarding how to obtain that authorization.

And at first I thought that was really weird. Why on earth would there be a law against being patriotic all year long? My only thought was that those car flags started to look pretty ratty after a while. People were driving around with scraggly US flags waving in the highway breeze, and I can imagine that a flag left outside all year long, even without going 60 miles an hour, would start to get a little ragged around the edges as well. Maybe the thought is that the Chilean flag should only be displayed in a pristine state, not left to fade in the sun. Of course, it’s not enforced since as soon as the calendar hits September you can see vendors everywhere displaying Chilean flags. And yes, there are car flags here too.

Chilean Flag - La Moneda - Presidential Palace - Santiago, Chile

The other version of the flag with the coat of arms. Source: David Berkowitz

As to the validity of my theory, it’s totally a guess on my part. I also assumed that the law mandating patriotic flag flying had come under Pinochet, since that sounds like the kind of thing a dictator would do, and in fact it happened two presidents before the coup (Frei Montalva in 1967, if you’re really curious). So clearly I’m no flag law expert.

Any guesses?

Edit: Well so much for this post. I just saw on the news that President Piñera is enacting a law which will allow the flag to be flown any day, and commenter Carlos was kind enough to provide a link to the full story (in Spanish). So feel free to let your Chilean pride fly even after this weekend!

23 Responses to “The Chilean flag”

  1. Oneika says:

    This post is timely as it’s Independence Day in Guatemala today and there are flags all over the place. Those are some quirky rules surrounding the Chilean flag, though! Where I’m from in Canada, people aren’t particularly patriotic, and I have to admit that I’m still shocked when I go to certain parts of the States and see flags everywhere.

    • Emily says:

      I really feel like after Sept. 11 people started displaying flags more frequently in the US. I don’t think there were as many before that.

  2. Fernando says:

    i guess that flag with the coat of arms is only allowed to flag when the president is inside the building.

  3. leigh says:

    The law requiring people to fly the Chilean flag on certain days always made me indignant. Forcing people to display a patriotic symbol seems both absurd and oppressive. I also always assumed the law originated during the dictatorship…Thanks for educating me!

    I’ve always wondered if the law applies to buildings owned or inhabited by foreigners. I also wonder what people who were born in Chile but don’t think of themselves as Chilean — I once heard a Mapuche man say something to that effect — do on days when the law mandates they fly a flag they don’t identify with. I’ve never heard of anyone getting in trouble for not flying the flag, though…Do you know how strictly the law is actually enforced?

    • Kyle says:

      Our building man said that the building has been given a multa before for not getting the flat up on the proper days so apparently it is still pretty enforced.

      And I’m a foreigner owning the apartment that has the flag holder on it so we have to fly a flag. I didn’t ask if there were any special exceptions to the rule but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter.

      This is one of those strange laws that’s so normal to Chileans that nobody knows, or thinks about why it exists. I’ve asked so many people about it and no one has been able to give me a real answer!

      • Emily says:

        Kyle, does that mean you guys have to let the conserjes in so they can fly the flag from your balcony? That seems funny to me that they have to go through one person’s apartment to do it, but I guess there’s no other really logical place in your building. Our building has a flagpole in the grass out front.

    • Emily says:

      I agree, I think it’s a bit much to mandate patriotism, hence my assumption that it was a Pinochet-era law.

  4. Vince says:

    FYI for the flying of the US flag.

    In the US the flag has special significance for during the War of 1812. When at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland was being shelled the flag remained up and flying because the tower referred in the Star Spangled Banner is a tower of bodies. Read the Anthem rather than sing it. Anyhow, in the US the flag has MORE status accorded to it because it was used as a battle flag during that action at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland.

  5. Carlos says:

    Actually, today, chilean president Sebastián Piñera is enacting the law that makes it possible to set up the flag every other day of the year without authorization. The same rules or set of instructions will apply, though, but i guess it’s a step forward since i always thought that, since it’s your country’s national flag, you should be able to fly it any day you want.

    Now, I just don’t get that it’s mandatory to do it every “dieciocho”.


  6. Leslie says:

    I’m going to send this post to a family friend who’s a flag expert and lived in Chile in the early 80s. It’s totally his kind of news!

    Felices fiestas patrias!

  7. Leslie says:

    This family friend responded with:

    Muchas gracias!
    He compartido las noticias con mis colegas vexilologicas hispano-parlantes.


  8. lecaros says:

    The other version flag -as you called it :) – can only be used when the president is in that building, ceremony, car, etc.
    There’s only one and clear enough article in the law about it 😀

  9. Andrea says:

    The US has some pretty strict laws about its flag as well. I had no idea how strict they were until I moved to Australia and saw people wrapped in the Aussie flag on TV at a cricket match and flags hanging off balconies. When I asked John why that wasn’t illegal he thought I was nuts, haha.

  10. Anne says:

    The only US law that I can think of is that if you are flying the flag at night it must be illuminated. Glad the Chilean president is letting you be more patriotic!

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