I first noticed the poppies on the flight in to Toronto from New York City, affixed to the lapels of a few hipsters. I thought that it might be a new, cool accessory –these are a simplified, totally non-frilly poppy, made out of a molded plastic covered in flocking. (It looks like felt from afar.) But then I spotted one on the tweed blazer of a guy who was definitely not so cool, and then on the windbreaker of another person certainly not bucking for fashionista of the year.
What was the deal with this red flower? The poppies were everywhere, on teenagers, children, on waiters, on TV anchors. I thought it might have something to do with AIDS activism. It turns out that these poppies are to honor veteran's, and Canadians wear a poppy leading up to November 11th, their Remembrance Day, which is the same as our Veteran's Day. It's also called Poppy Day.
Why the poppy? Why, blood is red, of course, and apparently poppies were the only flower to bloom on the WWI battlefields of Flanders.
Via Wikipedia, I also learned that throughout the British Commonwealth, poppies are worn, albeit slightly different varieties, that peace activists wear white poppies, to symbolize alternatives to bloodshed, and that until 1996, the poppies were made by disabled vets, and are now made by a private contractor. (This site says it was no longer practical for the Royal Canadian Legion to maintain its "VetCraft" program which afforded disabled vets some income, I'm not sure what the whole story is there. But the donations that people make in exchange for a pin go to to the benefit of veterans.) For people who work in foodservice, children, and others who can't be trusted with sharp pins, there are now poppy stickers.
If my observations are any indication, the act of remembering veterans
in Canada is widespread demographically–far more so than it is here in the US, where, to many people, Veteran's Day is simply one without school or mail
service. Maybe it's because the call to honor the service of military men and women is so often mixed up with a certain political agenda. It would be nice if we could figure out a way to separate that out, and make Veteran's Day resonate as much as Remembrance Day does for our neighbors to the North.