The Poppy and Remembrance Day

Cynthia Cheng

Over the weekend, several people have written to me about the significance of the flower I used for the column I posted on Friday regarding Remembrance Day.  The flower is the poppy, worn by many people of the British Commonwealth to commemorate the war dead and war veterans.  While the poppy has long been associated with war (poppies can grow on disturbed soil), and was adopted in Canada since the 1920s, most Canadians today know about it through the poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McRae, called “In Flanders Fields,” written during the First World War after the death of McRae’s friend. The poem is near-mythical in Canada.   Not only is it recited at most Remembrance Day services across the country, but a verse of the poem is found on Canada’s most current $10 note.  The line “To you with failing hands we throw…..” is also found in the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room.  Everyone who was educated in Canada would have come across the poem at one point, most likely during their elementary school years.  The poem has been referenced outside of Canada too, including a Peanuts special.

In Canada, poppies are sold starting two weeks leading up to Remembrance Day and are sold by members of the Canadian Legion.  Proceeds of the Red Poppy Campaign go to organizations which assist veterans and their families.  The poppy is generally worn on the left side, on the lapel of one’s coat or jacket often, close to one’s heart.  You will find the poppy on every single television personality and politician.

Though its association in Canada and in many parts of the world is with the First War, Canadians all over continue to wear it today.  It is considered a symbol of sacrifice.  It has had some controversy over the past few years, especially after the start of the wars in the Middle East.  There have been peace organizations who have sold white poppies (as white is a colour of peace), which angered the Canadian Legion (who felt that they were not only violating a trademark, but were also showing disrespect to those who fought in war).  These organizations, however, claim that white poppies are almost as old as the red ones, and in no way are they being disrespectful.

For those of us who claim that Canada doesn’t have any “culture,” we can tell them that they’re wrong.  We do.  Poppies are part of our culture.  While they are worn in many parts of the Commonwealth, we can claim that it was a Canadian doctor who wrote “In Flanders Fields.”

Image  ©  Suzanne Carter-Jackson/iStockphoto

Comments

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