Back in May, I wrote a post about the long Canadian holiday weekend. My dear friend Michael commented there with a reminder not to forget the real meaning of the US Memorial Day, and included a tribute to the brave troops en route to the debacle of Iraq. In spite of the plethora of magnetic yellow ribbons on cars in the US, I think Michael is in the minority of remembering what Memorial Day is supposed to be about.
Fast forward to November. My first 46 years, when I lived in the US, I was vaguely aware of Veterans’ Day, one of those quasi-holidays that only the government and banks enjoyed as a holiday. The rest of us schmucks had to work. I didn’t even really relate it to either WW I or II.
During the past 10 years, though, I’ve come to a much greater appreciation for November 11, known in Canada (and elsewhere in the Commonwealth) as Remembrance Day. Beginning a couple of weeks before Remembrance Day, virtually everyone – and I mean everyone – in Canada begins sporting red poppies on their clothing. It’s striking: children, teenagers, the young tattoed and pierced, parents, shopkeepers, newscasters, every politician of whatever stripe, all wear the bright red flower on their clothing. It’s the Done Thing that crosses all age, gender, racial, political and class lines.
One has dozens of opportunities to obtain a poppy – for a donation (of whatever amount) to the Royal Canadian Legion. Every grocery store, every coffee shop, malls – all either have boxes (honour system: take a poppy and put a coin in a slot), or a veteran accepting donations for them. On November 11, poppies are ubiquitous. One feels guilty if one isn’t wearing a poppy. If you forgot it, no problem – just make a donation for another.
Then there are the likely hundreds (if not more) of community commemorations on November 11. Virtually every community has a Cenotaph, a memorial honouring those who have died in service defending Canada . On November 11, there is always a ceremony at the local Cenotaph, including an honour guard, a reading of the names of the fallen, and a laying of one or more wreaths. This year, November 11 falls on a Sunday; our church is beginning its service 1/2 hour early, and will complete its service by joining the walkers to the Cenotaph for the 10:45 a.m. service. And of course, at 11:00 a.m., we will be 2 minutes of silence.
But the commemoration of those who died fighting for Canadian freedom and ideals, and those who continue to fight or represent Canada in its role as peacekeeper, is not limited to poppies and Cenotaph ceremonies. Because Remembrance Day has deep and wide meaning in Canada, the World Wars, and Canada’s contributions to them, as well as Canada’s more recent efforts in Afghanistan and as peacekeeper are integrated into school curricula, news programs, even into Sunday school. Canada’s forces and its accomplishments are remembered, respected and supported.
I am often chagrined by my ignorance about World War I and II, especially compared with my Canadian friends, many of whom are far younger than I. Might that knowledge come, in part, from the united will of the entire country to never forget?
Perhaps it’s no accident that John McCrae, author of In Flanders Fields, was a Cannuck.