It may be hard for Canadians to associate Remembrance Day with anything other than the danger of pining poppies to our lapels. It has been 100 years since the end of the First World War, and in the face of mounting geopolitical pressure, it seems as if the lessons of history have escaped us.
November 11th is an important day of the year in the collective memory of many around the world. At 11am on the 11th, people stop and take a moment to honour those who have risked their lives for their countries. It is a moment of reflection on the brutality of war, and the sacrifice so many young soldiers have made.
What is Remembrance Day?
The First World War was a turning point for the world in many ways. It marked the brutal transition away from 'Gentleman's warfare' to the killing fields we are now familiar with. There is a famous story of the French showing up to one of the early battles against the Germans. The French arrived on white horses, swords in hand and feathers in their caps. They were promptly mowed down by German machine-gun fire before any order to retreat could be given.
How to Honour Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day is not a celebration of military power, nor is it about the tacit acceptance of war. It is an opportunity to reflect on conflict, history, and the sacrifices of those who fought. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said of war: "This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
Wear a Poppy
A simple way to demonstrate your observance of Remembrance Day is to wear a poppy. Referencing the famous poem "In Flanders Fields" written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, the poppy is a small but powerful symbol of remembrance. Even if you are unable to participate in any other act of commemoration, wearing a poppy demonstrates that the reason for the day is still in your thoughts.
One thoughtful way of showing respect would be to stop and just talk to one of the veterans who 'sells' poppies. A friendly conversation can go a long way.
Attend a Ceremony
Whether at a school, community centre, town hall, park, or cemetery; there are ceremonies occurring nearby which you can attend and show you respects. Bring flowers, even volunteer to help organize the event, and pause for the two minutes of silence. All of these acts of communal mourning are significant ways you can show your respect on Remembrance Day within your own community.
Read and Write
A wonderful way to honour Remembrance Day is through reading and writing as acts of commemoration. Research a family member who served in the armed forces, speak with a veteran, or research the participation of those in your community in past wartime efforts. Looking to the past is an important act of preserving such powerful memories. You can also write to veterans and current members of the Canadian armed forces through federal writing initiatives such as Valentines for Vets and Postcards for Peace E-cards.
You can also create an online memorial page to honour and share the memory of a veteran. By including photos, information about their interests, and details about their life (including their role in wartime efforts), you can pay homage to their lives and the risks they took in service of their country.
Remembering Around the World
Remembrance day is observed all over the world. The United Kingdom, India, Barbados, Kenya, St. Lucia, and Bermuda are all past or current Commonwealth countries that obverse Remembrance Day on November 11th. This day of remembering is also observed in Australia and New Zealand, but is referred to as Anzac Day in these countries. There a number of countries outside of the commonwealth that observe it, too, such as France and Belgium.
In the United States, Veterans Days is observed on November 11th, and is honoured in a similar way to Remembrance Day in Canada, with salutes, parades, and commemorative ceremonies. The United States also celebrates Memorial Day on the last Monday of May each year, a celebration unique to the country.