Monday, November 10, 2008

Remembrance Day

For the people in my circle of friends, "Remembrance Day" is a catchy single by a band called B-Movie. But in the "Commonwealth" countries (those that still have Queen Elizabeth II as a monarch), "Remembrance Day" is a solemn occasion honouring both Armistice Day (the former name of the holiday in both the US and Canada) and veterans of wars in general.

As most people know, it is marked on the day that World War I came to an end, and is marked in both countries as a federal holiday, with speeches, visits to gravesites by politicians, parades and such. 

In Canada, Remembrance Day is a much bigger deal than in the US (in my experience). The symbol of remembrance, the red poppy seen above, is worn by absolutely everyone, young and old, for two weeks up the actual day. The poppies (which are plastic) are sold with a traditional straight pin by veteran's groups to raise money and awareness and are so ubiquitous that it is considered a fashion faux pas to leave the house without it.

This is also traditionally a time when veterans of past wars are in high demand to speak at schools and other civic institutions; we saw on the news today a very spry veteran of World War II addressing a (surprisingly to me) rapt audience at Selkirk Elementary.

In all the Commonwealth nations, a two-minute period of silence is observed at the 11th hour. Though Canada shares these traditions with the other Commonwealth countries, it differs in one respect; no Remembrance Day ceremony in Canada would be complete without a reading of "In Flanders Fields," a rondeau poem written by Canadian medic Dr. John McCrae. Although the poem is known in other places (particularly Scotland), it is a mythic piece of Canadian history and inextricable from the rest of Remembrance Day here.

We present it to our readers who are, were, or have known veterans of war.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


DLF said...

Heya Chas.

Welcome to Canada, again. I usually read plunkybug on LJ, but she linked to this post so I dropped by.

I'm glad you shared this with your readers, and invite you over to LJ to read my far too long response to her about the Big Deal that is Remembrance Day.

They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn [sic].
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them.

We will remember them.