World Vexillology Day, or Vexiday for short, is “an international celebration of flags and their study,” according to vexiday.org, the official Vexiday website. Each year on October 1, vexillologists and associated organizations across the world participate in a one-day celebration of all flags and their study.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines vexillology as “the study of flags.” Following the entry is a note titled “Did you know?” which reads:
The flag is the embodiment, not of sentiment, but of history. Woodrow Wilson was speaking of the U.S. flag when he made that statement in an address in June of 1915, but those who engage in vexillology - that is, vexillologists - would likely find the comment applicable to any national banner. Vexillologists undertake scholarly investigations of flags, producing papers with titles such as "A Review of the Changing Proportions of Rectangular Flags since Medieval Times, and Some Suggestions for the Future." In the late 1950s, they coined vexillology as a name for their field of research from vexillum, the Latin term for a square flag or banner of the ancient Roman cavalry. The adjectives vexillologic and vexillological and the noun vexillologist followed soon thereafter.
Author Whitney Smith, in his 1975 book Flags Through the Ages and Across the World, defines the term vexillology as “the scientific study of the history, symbolism, and usage of flags or, by extension, any interest in flags in general.”
Why October 1? According to the International Federation of Vexillological Associations (FIAV), the birthday of modern vexillology is recognized as October 1, 1961, the original date of publication of The Flag Bulletin, the first flag studies journal. Gerhard Grahl and Whitney Smith were the original publishers of that bulletin.
The Portland Flag Association (PFA) initiated an effort in 2016 to recognize October 1 as World Vexillology Day. PFA, based in Portland, Oregon, USA, originated in 1995 and is reportedly the largest flag group in the U.S. and Canada, outside of the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA). FIAV recognized the date officially in 2017, extending acceptance and celebration throughout the world.
How is Vexiday different than Flag Day? Many countries designate a holiday to honor their national flag - such as June 14 in the U.S. and February 15 in Canada. World Vexillology Day is unlike these holidays as it is not a day for patriotic activities centered on a specific flag. Vexiday, according to vexiday.org, is “a celebration of all flags and an invitation to learn about or otherwise show appreciation for them.”
How is World Vexillology Day celebrated? Some suggested celebrations include:
- flying or displaying flags
- sharing knowledge or stories about flags
- designing a new flag or redesigning an old one
- joining a local vexillological association
- organizing or participating in an event
On October 1, 2016, PFA marked the first World Vexillology Day with a show-and-tell event in a waterfront park in downtown Portland. They invited members of the public to bring a flag and tell why it was important to them. The organization holds similar educational events each year to mark the holiday.
How many vexillology associations are there worldwide? As reported on the FIAV website, 51 regional, national, and multinational vexillological associations and institutions across the globe make up the federation’s membership. “FIAV unites those associations and institutions throughout the world whose object is the pursuit of vexillology, which is the creation and development of a body of knowledge about flags of all types, their forms and functions, and of scientific theories and principles based on that knowledge.”
NAVA, a charter member of the FIAV, is the largest of the world’s vexillological organizations with more than 700 members. Flag scholars, designers, collectors, conservators, educators, merchants, manufacturers, historians, and hobbyist are represented in the membership.
The oldest association of vexillology, The Netherlands Association of Vexillology (NVvV), was formed by the Dutch in 1966, one year prior to the founding of NAVA.
The 29th International Congress of Vexillology is scheduled to convene in July 2022 in Slovenia.
How can I find a vexillology group to participate in? Find a listing of FIAV members at: fiav.org/current-members/ For U.S. and Canada, go to nava.org to find out about online interest area meetings via Zoom. There are virtual groups at reddit.com/r/vexillology/ and facebook.com/groups/navagroup.
For further reading:
History of FIAV: https://fiav.org/what-is-fiav/
Origins of Organized Vexillology: https://fiav.org/the-origins-of-organized-vexillology/
Flag Research Center: https://flagresearchcenter.org
Dr. Whitney Smith: https://flagresearchcenter.org/about-the-center/dr-whitney-smith/