Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Of Red and White

Thanks, once again for the thoughtful comments from you folks. Those on the last post were no exception. Just this one time, I wasn't going to respond to comments individually and I've been finding it hard to adhere to that plan. The always-entertaining MLH of The Surly Writer asked a good question which requires a reply, so I thought I'd make another mini-post about poppies, and seize the opportunity to post this photo of Jeffrey and his RMC squadron, which was taken at yesterday's ceremonies. That's my boy as Guard Commander. Please click on the photo to enlarge it.

MLH's question: "Hilary, is it true that in Canada it is a tradition to wear red poppies for those people who are in the service and white poppies in remembrance for those who lost their lives? I heard this somewhere but I cannot remember if it is an actual fact?"

It's not true. From the last Friday in October, through to Remembrance Day on November 11, Canadians traditionally wear (fake) red poppies on the left lapel, pinned as close to the heart as possible. We wear them to remember those who gave their lives in past and present conflicts.

This practice was inspired by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae's poem In Flanders Field. The poppies, which are offered by the Royal Canadian Legion each year, are available on street corners, in storefronts and at federal buildings such as banks and post offices for a voluntary donation. The funds earned provide assistance to past servicemen and women in financial distress, and for medical-related services.

From what I understand about the white poppies, they are being sold by anti-war activists since 2006 - not handed out in exchange for beneficial donations, and are meant to promote peace. Understandably, it's upsetting to our veterans, as it undermines the symbolism and good work behind the red poppy. I've never seen anybody wearing a white poppy, and just about everyone does wear a red one.

Another touching, fairly new (since 2000) tradition takes place in Ottawa after the ceremonies and wreath-laying has occurred. Veterans and civilians alike remove their poppies after the service, and lay them on top of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It's a very moving gesture and sight.

I'll be back with my own traditional blog posts soon - tradition being less frequent postings, my own photos and individual comment responses. Please check out MLH's blog, and leave her a kind comment. Today is her one-year blogaversary.


Travis Erwin said...

Interesting facts and that hilarious comment you left on my blog made my day.

Kat said...

I'm glad you cleared up the white poppy/red poppy issue. I did not know about that and wouldn't have wanted to offend anyone. Not that I live in Canada, but it is nice to know these things. :)

Louise said...

Quite interesting. I've never seen poppies worn here, but now I will know what it means if I do.

Daryl said...

Enlightening post .. same is true here in the States .. red poppies worn close to the heart .. and in this city of protest for any and every thing .. I have never seen a white poppy!


Suldog said...

Thanks for the information, Hilary. We often have (fake) red poppies around here, but not to the extent that you folks seem to have them. MY WIFE and I always buy one, if a vet is selling.

Anonymous said...

I've only seen the red poppies being sold a couple of times. I had no idea what they were for. I'll have to be sure and buy one if I ever see them again.

Zuzana said...

Hilary, I know so very little about Canada, and it is interesting for me to come to your place and read about your country.
What a wonderful and solemn tradition, the uniforms of your soldiers resemble very much the Danish ones.
Poppies are such lovely flowers and we have many of them all growing all around the country. They are sight to behold when they are in full bloom, in contrasts to the green of the fields.

steviewren said...

I like that tradition. I had never heard of it.

Shammickite said...

Interesting comments on behalf of your USA readers... but I've never seen a red poppy being sold or worn here on Remembrance Day, which of course in USA is known as Veterans Day.
When I was a child in UK, you could buy really big ones to put on the hood (bonnet) of your car. I wonder if they still do that?
Still in Florida, sunny/cloudy today.
We are heading to Cape Canaveral to see the shuttle launch tomorrow.

Michelle H. said...

Thanks for clearing that up for me. Like I said, I only heard it once but could not verify it. So I thought to ask.

Sandra said...

How proud you must be of your son! All things military stir my emotions and make me teary. I am so thankful for all those who serve to keep us free!

Anonymous said...

My congratulations to you & your son Jeffrey. What an honor to be Guard Commander!

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest (Washington State) and have always seen red poppies for sale on Remembrance/Veterans Day (and possible the weekend before?) but I had no idea that they became available so much earlier in Canada. I got mine on Tuesday at the high school (school in session, but there were 2 assemblies in the morning plus an evening program for the community) -- and yes, there was a donation box next to the poppies.
I watched the excellent CBC coverage of the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and was touched by the 8-year-old tradition of laying ones poppy on the Tomb. Knowing now (thanks to you, Hilary) that these people have been wearing the poppy for the past 2 weeks makes this moving gesture even more wonderful.

Hilary said...

• Thanks, Travis. I'm glad you got a laugh out of it. :)

• Kat, I didn't know much about it myself. Google is my friend! ;) Thanks for stopping by.

• Louise, the poppies are so widely available here, that it never really occurred to me that they wouldn't be on Remembrance/Veteran's Day elsewhere. Thanks for the visit. :)

• I'm glad you've not seen the white ones in NY, Daryl. Keep on wearing the red close to the heart each year. :)

• Thanks for always supporting that cause, Sully. I know that that gesture is greatly appreciated. :)

• Thanks, Susan. Now that you know, that would be great. :)

• Thanks, Protege. Those scarlet uniforms are for special ceremonial events. They sure do look handsome in them, eh? I'll bet those fields of poppies in bloom look gorgeous. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks, Steviewren. We Canadians are full of good traditions.. or something. ;)

• Shammie, I can remember larger poppies with suction cup backing to afix to a windshield. That's about as large as they got in my memory. And I have no idea if those still exist either. A space shuttle launch sounds incredibly exciting. I'll look forward to reading all about it. Thanks for chiming in while you're on vacation. :)

• 'Twas a good question, MLH. Thanks for asking. :)

• You bet I am, Sandra! Immensely proud of him. :) Thanks for stopping by.

• Thanks so much KC. I'm really glad you watched the ceremonies and that the poppy tradition touched you. It's an incredibly moving moment. I'm glad you were a part of it. :)

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

Wow, I find this all fascinating. I'll definitely look at them in a new dimension.

Anonymous said...

Your Remembrance Day is on the same day as our Veterans' Day. I think it's mostly the same thing, though.

Cath said...

That's interesting about the white poppy. I never knew there was such a thing. It is sad they use them to detract from other causes.
I do not agree with going to war (who does?) but I would not detract from those who wish to remember in this way.
Thanks for explaining it.

In the UK (fake) red poppies abound wherever you go in the lead up to Remembrance Day.
Great shot of your son too - you must be very proud.

Dr.John said...

Thanks for sharing Canadian tradition.

Russell said...

And what a fine looking young man your son is! Goodness! I was certainly thinking about him and many others this week.

Here in the states, as you know, people wear poppies at the time of our Memorial Day - May 30 (now the last Monday of May but that is one of my pet peeves....). For various reasons, Memorial Day is a day when everything closes down and people really recognize the day. Unforutnately it is the unofficial start of summer so people are off to the lakes, etc.

Veteran's Day in this country is still observed on November 11 but it is so low key that you hardly know it is a holiday. That is quite sad in my opinion.

I like the Canadian way much better... much.

Woman in a Window said...

Hey, great history lesson. This should be in a book somewhere.

Unknown said...

Your "boy" looks very handsome in his uniform :)

Cheffie-Mom said...

I know you are so proud of your son. Thank you for sharing this picture. I'm off to check out MLH's blog.

Grace said...

Hi, Hillary. Red, White and Black together always attracts me. :)

Sandi McBride said...

I posted about that beautiful poem In Flanders Fields last year because it was my grandmother's favorite poem...she recited it two times a year...Confederate Memorial Day and Federal Memorial Day. It still brings tears to my eyes. Here on Mothers day you wear a red rose for mother living, white rose for mother passed...I wonder if that's where the foul up started?

Tricia said...

When I was growing up in New England, we also used to wear red poppies, but I've not yet seen it here in Georgia. I think it's a great tradition, and a visible reminder.

photowannabe said...

Thanks for the information Hilary. Haven't seen any white poppies around our area. In fact very few poppies any more. Somehow traditions seem to drift away and kids (and many adults) don't even know the reasons for the holidays.
You have a handsome son and stunning dress uniforms.

Dave said...

We too have the (fake)red poppies around ANZAC Day - the day here of memorial. Canada and NZ have a lot in common. - Dave

Indrani said...

Very interesting reading about your traditions.

Kappa no He said...

This is so interesting. Thank you! And your previous post absolutely lovely. You have the most handsome sons!

Hilary said...

• Thanks, MamaGeek. I'm glad you stopped by. :)

• Yes, AL. They fall on the same day and have pretty much the same sentiment behind them, each with our country's respective traditions. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Thanks, Cath. I'm guessing that the white poppy idea won't really take off - at least not when sold for Remembrance Day. The red ones seem to umm pop up in many Commonwealth countries. It's a solid tradition. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks for the visit, Dr. John. :)

• Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Russell. I always thought of your Memorial Day as you described it - an opportunity for a long weekend. That is sad. Especially if Veteran's Day is low key. Since they sell poppies early here, maybe Josie or I can send you one to wear for Veteran's Day next year. :)

• Thanks, WIAW. I'm sure it's in several books somewhere.. and Wikipedia. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Welcome, Faye and thanks. You'll get no argument from me. :)

• Thanks kindly, Cheffie. You bet I am! :)

• Hi Grace. I'm glad the colours were pleasing for you. :)

• Sandi, that's so touching that your Grandmother recited In Flander's Field on those events each year. It must have been very moving. I'll have to try to locate your post from last year. You could be quite right about the rose/poppy mix-up. Flowers and their colours are symbolic of so many things. It would be easy to get confused about their meanings. Thanks for the insight. :)

• I agree, Tricia. I think a lot of Canadians have settled throughout New England over the years and have probably kept the poppy tradition alive in that area. I would feel its absence if poppies were no longer available to me. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks, Photowannabe. I'm very grateful that the poppy tradition is just as strong here as it's ever been. It's an important reminder .. "lest we forget." Thanks for the kind words. :)

• Cimba, we do have a lot in common, as is the case for many of the Commonwealth countries. It's nice to know these traditions are widespread. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Thanks, Indrani. Glad you stopped by. :)

• Thanks, Kappa. I'm glad you enjoyed it. And I'm not going to argue with you about my sons. ;)