When it comes to flags around the world, each one has been meticulously designed to embody the country’s unique history and spirit. Although some may look similar, the meaning behind each one is as unique as the country.
Have you ever wondered what the words on the Brazilian flag mean? Or why are there olive branches on the Cypriot flag? From the heritage of the country to the heart of the people, we look into some of the most interesting flags in the world, the symbolism behind them and how they reflect the country’s way of life.
Flags around the world
Brazil is a vibrant country with soul, as depicted by its flag’s use of bright green, yellow and blue colours. Adopted in 1889, the flag includes 27 white stars to reflect the country’s states, arranged to accurately depict the night sky over Rio de Janeiro. The country’s motto, “Ordem e profresso” (“Order and progress”) is also featured. The green of the flag represents Brazils lush fields and forests, while the yellow diamond shape symbolising Brazil’s wealth in gold.
Brazilian expat Simone, blogger at Midlands Traveller, told us how the flag reflects the Brazilian way of life.
“The only way I can describe the people of Brazil and its culture is to understand the mishmash of heritages that form our country. From North to South, Brazil is made up of many ‘countries’ inside one vast one. We do like to celebrate this multiculturalism in unique ways too, from big parades like Rio Carnival to many folkloric festivals like Bumba Meu Boi in the North.”
Canada’s simple red and white flag with its famous maple leaf is known all over the world, but it was only adopted by Canada in the 1960s after the country wanted its own identity away from the United Kingdom and the Union Jack, particularly at events that were considered truly Canadian.
The design of the flag took inspiration from the Royal Military College of Canada flag, where it was first used as an official symbol for the Prince of Wales Royal Canadian Regiment in 1860. The maple leaf soon became the national identity of Canada, representing unity, tolerance, and peace. The leaf was also chosen as it is deep-rooted in the country’s history, with early settlers using maple tree sap for food and other necessities.
Another well-known flag, India’s unique spinning wheel (chakri) is one of the most notable across the globe. Saffron, white and green were chosen to represent the country’s courage and sacrifice; peace and truth; and faith and chivalry, respectively.
The spinning wheel symbolises the Khadi movement. The campaign was driven by Gandhi to boycott the use of foreign cloth in the 1920s to get Indian mill owners to become more self-reliant in making their own clothing (khadi). He did this by hand-spinning clothing himself and encouraging others to do so, even making it compulsory for the members of the Indian National Congress to spin cotton themselves and to pay their dues in yarn. As one final nod to the Khadi movement, the flag, by law, has to be made from khadi.
The oldest flag in the world, we couldn’t keep Denmark’s intriguing ‘Dannebrog’ off our list. This simple yet sacred flag has a long-standing legend behind it and has been used as a prototype for other Nordic flags, including the Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Icelandic flags.
“The Danes love their flag,” author, podcaster and Danish language consultant Kay from How to Live in Denmark told us. “According to legend, the Dannebrog fell to earth in 1219, when King Valdemar II was fighting a battle in Estonia. The battle was won, and Denmark has been crazy about their flag ever since.”
Kay told us a bit more about the flag, explaining just how prominent it is in everyday Danish life.
“In Denmark, the flag decorates birthday cakes, Christmas trees, and even cucumbers in the supermarket – but only if they are grown in Denmark. When a member of the Danish Royal Family has a birthday, tiny flags are hoisted onto all the buses in Copenhagen.
“If you’re visiting Denmark, keep an eye out for variations on the flag – such as the one that looks like the regular flag with a triangle-size bite out of it. This is generally used for official buildings, and a slightly different version is used on ships. You may even see a long, skinny version of the Danish flag, which is special because it can be flown both day and night.”
Jamaica’s flag is known for its bold use of black, yellow and green positioned in a striking X-shape. But these eye-catching colours weren’t chosen at random, with the symbolic meaning behind the colours being ‘The sun shineth (yellow), the land is green (green) and the people are strong and creative (black)’.
The Dryland Tourist blogger and travel writer Janeen told us more about the Jamaican people and the country’s international influences.
“Jamaicans are vibrant, resourceful and colourful people and the culture is very reflective of that. The national motto is “Out of many, one people”, which is symbolic of the various ethnic groups that have settled on the island throughout history.
“Jamaica’s culture has strong West African and British influences with traces of Spanish, Arawak Indian, Chinese and other cultures. The island’s multicultural influences are most evident in local cuisine, from the cooking styles to ingredients. The love of porridge, tea, and buns were inherited from the English. British influence is most noticeable in the country’s education system, laws, political structure and the holidays celebrated.
“Jamaicans are naturally warm, hospitable yet proud people. We pride ourselves on Jamaican hospitality and are welcoming of others, especially those who embrace our culture and the local dialect, patois (Patwa). The average Jamaican will go out of their way to ensure that visitors enjoy the island.
“Despite the challenges that the country faces, Jamaicans are resilient, very laidback and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. The ability to do much with little resources and to smile through adversities is part of what makes us unique as a people. Jamaicans are most proud of their international influence and contributions in areas such as sports and music. We like to be the best in everything that we do. A common saying is “We likkle, but we tallawah”, which means, “We may be a little island, but we are highly spirited”.
Egypt’s flag can be recognised from the golden eagle dominating the centre of the design. The colours of the flag were chosen to represent the different circumstances which Egypt faced while under British rule before the revolution in 1952. Red represents the struggle, white symbolises the revolution and black symbolises the end of the oppression of the people. The eagle is a depiction of Egypt’s iconic Eagle of Saladin, which represents power and strength.
Podcast host and editor John from Egypt Travel Blog told us what the flag and its symbols mean to the people of Egypt.
“Egyptians are very proud people. They take pride in their history, their country and its symbols. If you walk around any local neighbourhood throughout Egypt on any weekday morning and listen closely, you’ll always hear a faint chorus of school children across the city singing the country’s national anthem while standing and facing a flag in their classroom. And at the centre of that flag, a golden eagle – a symbol of the enduring strength and perseverance of this ancient ‘Jewel of the Nile’.
“Egypt has been at the crossroads of continents, trade routes, and civilisations for thousands of years, so Egyptians are quite accustomed to welcoming visitors and guests. That's why friendliness, hospitality, and openness run in their blood. They are also clever and hardworking people who aren’t shy about leveraging their resources, whether that be by farming the fertile land watered by the River Nile or selling goods and services to tourists visiting their famed pyramids, tombs, and temples.”
John also told us what stands out the most about the spirit of Egyptians.
“The thing I admire most about Egyptians is that they really want to earn what they get. In all my years in Egypt, I've rarely seen someone beg for money. Instead, they'll offer to sell you something even if it's just a tissue, or offer to do something for you even if it's just carrying your bags.”
Cyprus’ flag was inspired by the goal of uniting the country’s Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The country has suffered at the hands of this turbulent dispute for many decades, with the 1974 invasion of Cyprus by Turkey further fuelling the conflict. Over 40 years since the invasion, both communities desperately want the country to reunify, putting an end to the dispute once and for all.
The flag has a white background and olive branches as a symbol of peace and harmony between the two communities. The country itself is also featured in an eye-catching, copper-orange colour thought to represent the large deposits of copper ore on the island. The original version of the flag was introduced in 1960, however it was updated in 2006, further reinforcing the communities’ desire for harmony.
Adopted in 1959, the Singapore flag replaced the Union Jack which had been flown in Singapore for 140 years. The stars represent the five ideals that Singapore lives by; peace, justice, democracy, equality and progress, with the crescent moon symbolising the youth of the nation. The vibrant red on Singapore’s flag stands for universal brotherhood, equality of man and purity, while the white represents pervading and everlasting purity and virtue.
“If you look into the history and culture of Singapore and its people over the last 50 years, all of these ideals are abundantly evident. Singapore is a multiracial and multicultural city with four official national languages and four principal religions. Harmony and integration are the guiding principles that Singaporeans live by.
“The city itself is often referred to as a fine city, not just because it is beautiful and peaceful, but because of its strong justice system. Although you may get a fine for even the smallest misdemeanour (such as not flushing a public toilet!), these strong beliefs and principles are what make the country so harmonious.”
Have these intriguing flags of the world inspired you to learn more about the cultures they represent? Our family cruise holidays are perfect for parents and children of all ages looking to learn about other countries, their history and way of life. Get in touch with our cruise specialists today.