Long before I moved to Switzerland I was intrigued with the Swiss flag. I love the simple boldness of a white cross on a bright red background. The Spanish bull is the other symbol I love, although I do feel slightly embarrassed by his large testicle(s). I appreciate the “I Heart NY” logo and I’ll probably buy a tank top and mug when I’m back in The City.
Let’s return to the cross. According to Wikipedia, the cross is one of the most ancient human symbols, used by many religions. It’s frequently a representation of the division of the world into four elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire) or cardinal points (N, S, E, W). The cross also combines the concepts of divinity (the vertical line), and the world (the horizontal line). The word cross was introduced to English in the 10th century as the term for the instrument of the torturous execution of Christ. It stems from the Latin crux, via the Old Irish cros. Previously, a cross was called a rood.
The history of Switzerland as a nation began in 1291, when three cantons in central Switzerland decided to help each other in defending their rights against the counts of Habsburg. They formed the Old Swiss Confederacy (1291 – 1515), a loose federation of autonomous regions, with no common field sign, uniforms, or high commander during most of its history. When Swiss troops went to war they carried the flags of their region with them. It was very difficult for the Swiss to recognize their allies on the battlefield. In the battle of Laupen (1339), white stripes forming crosses were fastened on the confederate soldier's breast, back, shoulders, arms, leg, hats or weapons. In the middle of the 15th century, the white cross was integrated into the flags of the member states of the confederacy. Today, Switzerland consists of 26 federal states called Cantons. Each canton still has its own coat of arms or flag.
The Swiss flag was officially introduced on December 12th, 1889 through the Swiss Federal Council. At the same time the dimensions of the cross were formally established, describing the horizontal arms as one sixth longer than the width of the vertical lines. The size of the cross in relation to the red field is not formally established but comes close to the ratio of 5:8. The exact hue of red in the Swiss flag is not defined by law. Various shades of red have been used over time. In 2007, the federal authorities defined “Swiss Red” to be Pantone's PMS 485 (100% magenta and 100% yellow). For web use, this color translates to the hexadecimal value of #F00000. The web safe equivalent is #FF0000. The Vatican City is the only other sovereign-state with a square flag.
Destruction, removal or desecration of a Swiss, cantonal or municipal flag or coat of arms that has been installed by a public authority is punishable by a monetary penalty or imprisonment of up to three years. The destruction or desecration of privately owned flags is legal. The use of the Swiss flag or coat of arms on merchandise is technically prohibited by the 1931 Federal Act for the protection of public coats of arms and other public insignia. This prohibition is not enforced. Zürich is overflowing with logos, clothing, home goods, and advertisements using the Swiss flag.
The Red Cross symbol is a reversal of the Swiss national flag. In 1863, the Red Cross was founded by the Swiss merchant Henri Dunant and the Swiss General Dufour. National Red Cross organizations in non-christian countries interpreted the Red Cross as a Christian symbol and replaced it by their own religious symbols. The color red on white background was retained. Today, three official Red Cross symbols are in use: the red cross, the red crescent, and a red crystal which is devoid of any national, political or religious connotation.
What do you think of the Swiss flag? Would you wear it? Would you eat it? Do you have a close tie to the flag of your birth country?
Wikipedia - Cross
Wikipedia - Rood
Wikipedia - Swiss Federal Council
Wikipedia - Swiss flag
Wikipedia - Fahne und Wappen der Schweiz
History of Switzerland's Flag
Red Cross - The history of the emblems