• Weird History

The Surprising Meanings Behind Countries' Unique Flags

List RulesVote up the flags that tell the most interesting stories about the nations they represent.

From a lion holding a sword to three legs connected at the thigh to a carnivorous eagle absolutely demolishing a snake, there are a host of culturally specific and indisputably distinctive images on other nations' flags.

The job of any flag is to honor the history and culture of the people for which it flies. Just like the red and white stripes on the United States flag represent the original 13 colonies and the 50 stars represent the 50 states, the crests, emblems, and icons on foreign flags symbolize the identities of their populations. Here's a look at a few flags that, while unusual at first glance, reveal rich and intriguing features about their respective nations.

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  • This flag features a yellow and orange background divided in half diagonally, and a giant thunder dragon known as a Druk, which is a major part of Bhutanese mythology. The Druk is entirely white, symbolizing purity, and clutches a norbu (or a jewel believed to have magical wish-fulfilling properties) in each claw as a metaphor for the nation's wealth.

    The background colors symbolize the two forces in the lives of the Bhutanese, with orange representing the Buddhist spiritual tradition of the nation and the yellow honoring the authority of the ruling dynasty and the Dragon King of Bhutan.

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  • 2

    Nepal

    Photo: Pumbaa80 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Nepal posseses the only flag in the world that doesn't conform to a rectangular shape. The Nepalese flag is made of two overlapping triangular pendants, which may represent the peaks of the Himalayas. The red coloring of the flag is the same shade as Nepal's national flower, the rhododendron, and is outlined in blue, which represents harmony.

    There are varying explanations for Nepal's uniquely-shaped flag. The government's official position is that, instead of mountains, the two triangles represent the nation's two primary religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. The crescent moon in the upper triangle stands for both tranquility and the cool shade in the shadow of the country's enormous mountains, while the sun represents the heat of the lowland parts of Nepal. The sun and moon are also supposed to stand for the nation's aspirations toward longevity, or the desire to exist as long as the moon and the sun themselves.

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  • 3

    Sri Lanka

    Not many flags depict a lion who can straight up end you. For the flag of Sri Lanka, the saber-wielding lion represents the Sinhalese people and the bravery and strength of the nation's population. Meanwhile, the blade itself represents the country's sovereignty and willingness to fight for its independence.

    The panel featuring the lion includes four bo leaves from the sacred fig tree. The bo leaves represent the role Buddhism plays in the lives of the people of Sri Lanka, specifically the four Buddhist virtues: kindness, happiness, friendliness, and equanimity.

    The colors of Sri Lanka's flag directly honor the major ethnic groups of the country. Orange represents the Sri Lankan Tamils and green symbolizes the Sri Lankan Moors. Maroon, which provides the backdrop to the massive lion, represents the Sinhalese majority. Even those who belong to other groups are respected, as the yellow border is meant to honor all other peoples with diverse ethnic backgrounds.

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  • 4

    Mexico

    Americans may be familiar with Mexico's green, white and red flag, but many may not realize the eagle in the middle is actually eating a snake. The image, from Mexico's coat of arms, pays tribute to an Aztec legend. As the story goes, the wandering Aztec people were told to settle where they witnessed an eagle feasting on a writhing snake while sitting atop a cactus. The nomadic Aztecs supposedly saw this happen in the place where they founded Tenochtitlan, which is now Mexico City.

    The colors of the flag hold great significance to the country. Green symbolizes hope, in the form of its fertile soile; white is for purity and the Roman Catholic religion; and red represents the blood shed for the nation's independence.

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