The Meaning And Symbolism Of Flags From Around The World

Ode to the flag

Let's take a look at some of the most interesting (and symbolic) flags from countries around the world and learn a little bit more about the history behind them.

South Korea

We begin in South Korea. Its flag is known as Taegeukgi, which means "Taegeuk flag."

The Taegeuk is a red-and-blue circle (which Westerns would identify as a yin-and-yang). The blue represents negative forces and the red positive, balancing each other out to create perfect harmony.

There are also four trigrams in each corner of the flag, which are said to represent earth, fire, water, and heaven as well as the cardinal directions and family members. The basic building blocks of life, no? 

The symbols are on a white background, which represents land and peace.

Iceland

Iceland's flag is very much of the earth. It's made of a blue background that represents the color of the mountains when viewed from the ocean.

It also has a large red cross which signifies lava and volcanoes, while the white around the cross represents glaciers. The cross, of course, is also a symbol of Christianity.

The flag of Denmark, from whom Iceland became fully independent in 1944, also features a similar cross.

Brazil

Brazil's flag has a green background (associated with the first emperor of the country) with a yellow rhombus (associated with the first empress) and a blue circle with white stars in the middle of it.

The blue circle and starts represent the sky as it appeared over Rio de Janeiro on November 15, 1889, when the Brazil declared itself a republic. The stars (now 27 in total) refer to each Brazilian state.

Across the center of the blue circle, there is a motto, Ordem e Progresso, that translates to "Order and Progress" and refers to philosopher Auguste Comte's famous quote: "Love as a principle and order as the basis; progress the goal."

Mexico

The Mexican flag consists of three colors (called a tricolor in vexillology) left to right: green, white, and red.

Among other meanings, green symbolizes hope, white unity, and red blood. In the center of the flag, there is Mexico's national coat of arms with an eagle sitting on a prickly pear cactus while eating a rattlesnake.

This image goes back to an old Aztec legend in which a god told a tribal leader to set up a community once he came across such an eagle. In 1325, it's said, the leader and his tribe saw the eagle while crossing through Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City.

South Africa

The South African flag bursts with color. It's made up red, white, blue, black, yellow, and green—and plenty of meaning to back up its vibrancy.

Black, yellow, and green call up the African National Congress (the ruling political party of the South Africa starting with Nelson Mandela's election in 1994), while the red, white, and blue refer the European colonists of Great Britain and the Dutch settlers. All the colors work together to reflect the diversity of people in South Africa, while the Y shape signifies unity, as two roads merging.

Finland

With a white background and blue cross (off-centered), Finland's flag has a similar look to Iceland, but it conveys different meanings.

The color blue relates to the country's beautiful blue skies and sparkling lake waters, while the white symbolizes its snow (this area is known to receive quite a bit, after all). The cross relates to Christianity, which is the country's main religion.

Spain

The Spanish flag is made up of two red bands (located on the top and bottom) with a broader, yellow band in the center.

On the yellow band is Spain's national coat of arms: the Pillars of Hercules (a name for the Strait of Gibraltar in antiquity) topped with crowns (monarchy) and the Latin motto Plus Ultra, "More Beyond" (referring to Columbus and his voyages).

There are mixed ideas about what the colors of the flag symbolize. Some think the yellow means generosity and the red means bravery, while others say the red is the blood from a bullfight and the yellow is the sand of the arena.

Canada

Canada's flag features a red maple leaf, national emblem of the country. The leaf is on white band between two red ones. Red and white are Canada's national colors.

Canada didn't have an official national flag until 1965, and the selection of one was the source a heated debate that result in the maple leaf flag today. Contentions centered on whether or not to keep the Union Jack (flag of the UK) on its new flag or not. All eventually agreed, however, that the maple leaf was the way to go.

Madagascar

Madagascar's flag consists of a white vertical strip on the left side and two horizontal strips (green and red) on the right.

The colors represent the traditional peoples of the nation before French colonization: red and white, the Merina people, among whom the Hova (green) were a caste.

United States

Speaking of colonies, we end with the Stars and Stripes: the flag of the United States.

It features 13 stripes (seven red, six white), representing the original colonies that broke from Great Britain. It now has 50 stars on a blue background, for each state in the union.

The white is said to indicate purity and innocence, red valor and strength, and blue vigilance and justice.

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