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|The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the English-speaking world and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (July 2012)|
Awareness ribbons, due to their ubiquitous nature, have come to symbolize various concerns depending on the colours or the patterns used. For example, black ribbons may be used for mourning.
Yellow ribbons, in the United States, are used to show that a close family member is abroad in military service. In Russia, Belarus and other countries of the former USSR gold and black striped ribbons are used to celebrate the Allies' victory in World War II (9 May).
Of the uses of ribbons to draw awareness to health issues, perhaps the best-known is the red ribbon for support of those with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Other health and social concerns which have adopted coloured ribbons include Alzheimer's disease (purple), Breast Cancer (pink), bipolar disorder (green), and brain disorder or disability (silver).
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The first ribbon that was represented as a meaningful object in history was the yellow ribbon that was mentioned in a marching song, which was sung by the military in the United States. In the year 1917 George A. Norton copyrighted the song for the first time. The title of the song was "Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon". In the 1940s the song was rewritten by several musicians.
In the early 1970s the song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree" was released, and based on this song, a wife of a hostage in Iran, Penney Laingen, was the first who used the ribbon as an awareness symbol. She tied yellow ribbons around trees, to illustrate desire for her husband coming home. Her friends and family members followed the trend due to loyalty. As all Americans, with the exception of those with poor eyesight, were able to see this message, the "ribbon became a medium".
In May 1986 the AIDS Faith Alliance, later to be known as Christian Action on AIDS, held an open conference on AIDS at Notting Hill Gate in London, supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury and other United Kingdom Christian church leaders. Rainbow Ribbons were given to everybody attending. Following the conference, Rainbow Ribbons were widely circulated not only in the United Kingdom, but throughout the Christian world. The purpose of Christian Action on AIDS, an official Church of England charity whose founder/chairman was Barnaby Miln, was to get the worldwide Christian churches involved in the crisis that was AIDS. The churches rapidly got involved allowing Christian Action on AIDS to fold in 1991.
In the 1990s, AIDS activists were inspired by the ribbon medium, and decided to make ribbons for the people that fight against AIDS. The ribbon that represents AIDS became red as this is the color of passion. During the Tony Awards, a photo was taken of the actor Jeremy Irons, who had the bright red ribbon pinned on his chest. As the public followed the awards, the ribbon was an eye catcher and became popular overnight. The year 1992 was declared by The New York Times as "The year of the Ribbon".