You may have heard the popular 1970s song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”. It features a reference to the common practice of adorning trees with yellow ribbons as a symbol of hope for soldiers abroad, and a way to welcome soldiers home from long deployments.
The earliest examples of yellow ribbons being used in this way seems to be in England and the Colonial United States, as spouses of soldiers would wear yellow ribbons to symbolize their hope that they would get to see their loved ones again. Other countries such as Canada have adopted the practice as families of soldiers displayed yellow ribbons to represent their commitment, belief, and hope in the Canadian forces during the First World War.
Since then, people around the world have used yellow ribbons to signify their hope for reunion with loved ones far away. Families of those in prison or held hostage abroad have been known to display yellow ribbons.
One color, many usages
Color carries heavy symbolic weight, and it can hold many meanings, depending on context. In 2014, a South Korean ferry carrying 476 passengers capsized. As the news was reported, families and communities began displaying yellow ribbons as an expression of hope for the rescue and safe return of those caught on the ferry.
Even in tragedy, the symbol persisted. 304 people ultimately lost their lives as a result of the ferry sinking, and people all over the country began displaying the yellow ribbons as symbols of mourning and remembrance. Families of victims and other people angry at the coast guard’s inability to save their loved ones even used yellow ribbons in their demonstrations and protests. Pope Francis wore a yellow ribbon on his historic visit to South Korea in 2014, to show his support and love for grieving families.
There are countless other examples of yellow ribbons holding significance around the world. The simplest item or common color can hold depths of meaning depending upon the culture or person. And as situations change, so do our understanding of these symbols.
The most powerful symbols help us remember important values and moments, even as their meaning adapts and evolves with our lives. Is there a color that is especially meaningful to you? Think about how that meaning has changed over time, and what those changes reflect in your life.