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United States of America
The ubiquitous American Flag inspires more pride than almost any other and is iconic around the world (and even on the moon). Old Glory’s 50 stars represent America’s 50 states, and its 13 alternating coloured stripes the 13 British colonies that declared independence from the UK. But as America’s size and structure has changed, so has its flag to represent it.  

Australia
Another country colonised by the British, Australia flew the Union Flag up (it's only called the Union Jack when flown aboard a boat) until the mid 20th century and even today includes it in the current design (with some debate as to whether it’s there to symbolize the six British colonies and principles that informed the Australian Federation or simply as a loyal nod to its history). When federalization took place, a new flag was needed and the modern design was born to include an early symbol of Australian settlers, the Southern Cross constellation, and a larger six-pointed Commonwealth Star (also known as the Federation Star) with each point representing Commonwealth territories – since grown to seven to represent Papua and any future territories.

Canada
Crazy as it may sound, Canada didn’t actually have a national flag until 1964. Like so many others, it had defaulted to using the British Union Flag in a variety of formats even after its independence in 1931. But Prime Minister at the time, Lester B Pearson, resolved to change that, with George Stanley’s instantly recognisable maple leaf design selected and unveiled on February 15, 1965.

China
The world’s most populous country has an ancient and rich history to draw upon, yet has one of the simplest and most dynamic flags there is. The Five-star Red Flag as it’s known features one large and an arc of four smaller gold stars that portray the communist party and people of China, while the bright red background is symbolic of the communist revolution. A potent symbol of the government’s iron grip over its people, it’s a long way from the first Qing Dynasty flag - a bold yellow pennant bedecked with a beautiful dancing dragon.

Colombia

One of the oldest flags in our list dates back to 1861. Colombia’s standard was inspired by the Venezuelan flag created to represent its independence and the birth of Gran Colombia along with Ecuador. Not equally apportioned, the yellow band takes up half of the flag and represents Colombia’s riches – its wealth in soil, gold, sovereignty, justice and agriculture. The quarter-width blue is the seas lapping Colombia’s shores, the rivers within it and the skies above it. The final quarter-width red, as is so often the case, represents the blood spilled in the country’s fight for independence and success in the face of the struggle.

Egypt
The current tricolour flag of Egypt dates back to the revolution of 1952 and bears on it the Egyptian eagle of Saladin, an emblem of Arab nationalism. The red band represents Egyptian blood spilled in the war against colonisation, the white the purity of heart and the black on the bottom symbolises how darkness is overcome. Earlier incarnations show the country’s history during the Muhammad Ali Dynasty as a part of the Ottoman Empire and bear many similarities with the Turkish flag.

Hungary
The flag of Hungary is born from national republican movements across the 18th and 19th centuries with colours dating back to the Middle Ages, marshalled from the arms of the Árpáds, Hungary's founding dynasty. Romantic period folklore identified the colours as virtues – red for strength, white for faithfulness and green for hope – while others more traditionally associate them with red for spilled blood, white for freedom and green for the land. The colour bands are horizontal rather than vertical to avoid confusion with the Italian flag. Interestingly, the Hungarian flag is the same as the current UK republican movement flag.

Mongolia
Mongolia’s standard has changed a lot over the course of a century but has always maintained elaborate symbols as part of its makeup. The bright vertical design frames an eternal sky blue with reds that symbolise thriving forever. The golden geometric image is the national Soyombo symbol that represents fire, sun, moon, earth and water. This current incarnation was only slightly altered in 1992 to remove the socialist star from the Soyombo symbol when the country rejected the socialist ideal.

Portugal
Take a peek back into Portugal’s previous flag incarnations and you’ll see how much of a sea change the current version is. Historically associated with the country’s royal arms in blue and white, the new Flag of the Five Escutcheons features a 2:3 green and red stripe with a minimal version of the national coat of arms straddling the colour boundary. Created to reflect the rise of the republic and the fall of the monarchy, the colours represent the hope of the nation’s future and the blood of those who died to defend it.    

South Africa
The evolution of South Africa’s flag portrays a country embroiled in turbulence right up until its latest incarnation from 1994 when it finally moved away from apartheid to a time of greater democracy. Hastily designed in March 1994 and adopted in April of the same year to align with the general election, its interim status was soon rejected when its popularity proved too great to resist. The government describes it as a ‘synopsis of principal elements of the country’s flag history’ where its colours have ‘no universal symbolism’ but its unique Y shape represents ‘the convergence of diverse elements within South African society, taking the road ahead in unity’.


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