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25 world flags and their hidden meanings

Photos 1/8/2016

Flags originated on battlefields as a means of identification and hierarchy. Over the years, they have evolved to incorporate symbols significant to the countries they represent. Click through as we put together a list of 25 national flags and their respective meanings.

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United Kingdom

Though officially called the Union Flag, the flag of the U.K. is popularly known as the Union Jack - the name given to the same flag when flown while at sea. One of the oldest flags of the world, the Union Jack is a combination of three separate flags with symbols of the patron saints of the three countries — England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — that are united under one sovereign. England and Wales are represented by the bold red St. George’s cross on the white background; Scotland is represented by the white-colored St. Andrew's cross on the blue background; and Northern Ireland is represented by St. Patrick’s cross, the red diagonal cross on the white background. The British flag was adopted on Jan. 1, 1801.

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The Nigerian flag comprises three equal-sized vertical stripes. While the green color represents the nation's lush vegetation and its agricultural industry, the white signifies the country’s desire for peace and unity. The flag was adopted on Oct. 1, 1960.

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The 14 red-and-white stripes as well as the 14 arms in the star represent the 13 member states and the federal district of Kuala Lumpur — signifying their equality in status. While the crescent and star symbols signify the country’s dominant religion, Islam, the color yellow is the country's traditional royal color. The blue rectangle, originally adopted from the Union Flag since erstwhile Malaya was a British colony, now means unity of the people of the country. The flag was adopted on May 26, 1950. 

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South Africa

Designed by former State Herald F. Brownell, the colors on the South African flag do not have any official symbolism. However, they do have historical significance. While the black, green and yellow colors are an ode to Nelson Mandela’s political party, the African National Congress, the red, white and blue are reminiscent of the flags of the European colonists and the former Boer republics. The “Y” represents the nation’s diverse elements and their convergence toward a unified path. The flag was adopted on April 27, 1994. 

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South Korea

The South Korean flag is officially called “Taegukgi,” which means “great polarity.” The base color, white, is the traditional color of the Korean people, and signifies peace and purity. The emblem at the center symbolizes the yin (blue) and yang (red) cosmic forces that are necessary to maintain a harmonious balance. The four black trigrams, or "kwae," on each corner of the flag represent heaven, Earth, water, and fire. The flag was adopted on Jan. 25, 1950.

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United States of America

Often called “The Stars and Stripes” or “Old Glory,” the American flag features 13 stripes representing the original 13 colonies: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia. The 50 stars denote the 50 individual states of the nation. While the red color signifies hardiness and valor, the blue represents vigilance and justice, and the white signifies purity and innocence. The flag was adopted on June 14, 1777. 

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The Argentine flag consists of three horizontal stripes: while the blue bands denote the country's clear skies, the white color represents the snow of the Andes. The sun with a human face on the white band — called Sun of May and bearing features of the Inca god of Sun — symbolizes Argentina's independence. The flag was adopted on Feb. 27, 1812. 

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The Bangladeshi flag comprises a red circle on a green background. The red color denotes the rising sun and the sacrifices made by the nation’s people for their independence. The green, on the other hand, signifies the country’s greenery and vitality. Interestingly, the red circle is placed slightly toward the left so that it appears to be at the center when the flag is flying on a mast. The flag was adopted on Jan. 17, 1972. 

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The flag comprises the Pan-African colors — green, yellow, and red — in three horizontal bands. The green denotes hope and fertility of the land, the yellow signifies justice and harmony, and the red symbolizes sacrifice and heroism in defense of the country. The blue disc at the center represents peace, and the pentagram stands for unity and equality among the Ethiopian people. The flag was adopted on Oct. 31, 1996. 

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Another one of the oldest flags in the world, the Austrian flag has a bloody history, literally. After a battle during the Third Crusade, the Duke of Austria, Leopold V’s white tunic was completely stained in blood, barring the area under his belt. This red-white-red combination is believed to have been the inspiration for the nation’s flag. The flag has been in use since 1191, and was re-adopted after World War II on May 1, 1945.  

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Known as the "Maple Leaf Flag," the Canadian flag has two colors — red, derived from St. George’s cross, and white, derived from the French royal emblem. An 11-point maple leaf is placed at the center of the white stripe. It was included after a prolonged campaign led by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, who noticed that during World War I, many Canadian battalions included a maple leaf in their insignia. The flag in its current form was adopted Feb. 15, 1965.  

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Believed to be the oldest continuously used national flag in the world, the Danish flag features an uneven white cross on a red background. The cross represents Christianity. According to legend, the flag fell from the skies on June 15, 1219, when King Waldemar II defeated the Estonians. However, according to historians, the flag's design was derived from old crusader banners. The flag was officially adopted as the state flag in 1625. 

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The ruling military junta replaced Myanmar's erstwhile red-blue flag with the current yellow, green, and red variant after the introduction of a new constitution in 2008. Yellow stands for solidarity among all ethnic groups, green denotes peace and tranquility, and red signifies courage and decisiveness. The central five-pointed white star symbolizes the country consolidated union. The flag was adopted on Oct. 21, 2010. 

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The colors on the German flag are reminiscent of the medieval banner of the Holy Roman Empire. The banner had a two-headed black eagle with red claws and beak on a golden field. The three colors can also be traced back to the colors of the soldiers’ uniforms who fought for the country during the Napoleonic wars. The current flag was adopted on May 23, 1949.   

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North Korea

The broad red portion is symbolic of the country’s communism and revolutionary patriotism. The two blue stripes represent sovereignty, while the narrow white bands denote purity. The red star signifies communist philosophy, and the white circle is symbolic of the yin-yang philosophy. The flag was adopted on Sept. 8, 1948. 

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The Australian flag features a Union Flag in the upper left corner, which signifies its colonization by the British. Just under the Union Flag is a seven-pointed star — the star of federation — representing each of the country’s six states and one point for its territories. The right half of the flag features the Southern Cross constellation, which is visible from every Australian state and territory. The flag was adopted on Sept. 3, 1901. 

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Commonly referred to as the “French Tricolore,” the flag of France is inspired from a red, white and blue cockade (a badge of eccentric circles), which was worn by King Louis XVI during a revolutionary gathering in Paris. White is a traditional color of the French royalty, while red and blue are an ode to the lively colors of Paris, the national capital. Over the years, the colors red, white, and blue have come to represent liberty, equality, and fraternity — the ideals of the French Revolution. The flag was officially adopted on Feb. 15, 1794.  

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The blue horizontal stripe denotes justice, while the red signifies courage. The white triangle on the hoist represent equality. The sun at the center of the triangle stands for the country’s independence, while the Sun rays are symbolic of the eight provinces that revolted against Spanish rule leading to the Philippine uprising. The three stars on each corner of the triangle represent the main geographical divisions of the nation — Luzon, Mindanao and Visayas. Though originally adopted in 1898, the current flag with minor alterations was re-adopted on Sept. 16, 1997.  

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The four small stars symbolize the social classes of the Chinese society — the working class, the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie, and the national bourgeoisie. The large gold star and the red color are symbolic of the communist revolution. The flag was officially adopted on Oct. 1, 1949. 

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The white serrated band with five points represent the five pillars of Islam. The red color is a traditional choice of all the Persian Gulf states’ flags. Until 2002, the flag had eight white points, which was later reduced to five to avoid confusion with the Qatari flag. The original flag was officially adopted in 1932.  

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Vatican City

The flag of the Vatican City comprises two vertical halves: the yellow half signifies the pope’s spiritual power, while the white denotes his worldly authority. The coat of arms on the white portion consists of two crossed keys of St. Peter, and a three-tiered papal tiara on top. Though introduced in 1825, it was officially adopted on June 8, 1929. 

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The flag of Cambodia consists of three horizontal stripes in blue-red-blue combination. While the blue color denotes the nation’s royalty, the red represents the nation. A three-towered temple at the center signifies Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument that is located in the country. Adopted following Cambodia's independence in 1948 until 1970, it was re-introduced in 1993. 

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Known as the “tiranga,” which means “tricolor,” the Indian flag originally was meant to represent the two main religious groups of the nation — the saffron denoting the Hindus, and the green denoting the Muslims. The white stripe was to signify the peace desired between the two communities. The meanings have evolved over time though. The saffron now signifies courage and sacrifice, the white represents truth and purity, and the green symbolizes faith, fertility and chivalry. The "wheel of law" represents the endless circle of life, while its 24 spokes are meant to denote each hour of the day. The flag was adopted on July 22, 1947. 

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The flag of Nepal is one-of-a-kind — it is the only national flag not rectangular in shape. The flag comprises two overlapping triangles in crimson that represent the Himalayan mountains and the two main religions of the nation — Hinduism and Buddhism. The blue outline is symbolic of the country’s peaceful nature. Originally, the moon and the sun represented the royal family and the prime minister’s family. They are now known to represent the nation’s desire to exist as long as the heavenly bodies. The current flag was adopted on Dec. 12, 1962. 

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The Mexican flag consists of three equal vertical stripes in green, white and red colors. The green denotes hope and joy, the white is symbolic of peace and religion, and the red stripe represents independence of the nation. The Mexican coat of arms on the white stripe is symbolic of the nation’s Aztec heritage. According to legend, the gods advised the wandering Aztec people to settle at a location where they saw an eagle feeding on a snake, perched atop a cactus. The city that they founded was Tenochtitlan, which is presently known as Mexico City. The current flag was adopted on Sept. 16, 1968. 

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