Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[BRIEF NOTE] On Remembrance Day's drift

As is usual whenever Remembrance Day comes around here in Canada, there's debate about making the day a statutory holiday, i.e. a holiday that would be observed throughout Canada and (perhaps not incidentally) qualify automatically as a day off work. The debate's going to taper out, perhaps because of the sentiment that the National Post's Matt Gurney expressed.

For all Canadians who enjoy the freedoms and safety secured for us by the sacrifice of over 100,000 lives and the suffering of millions more who served and lived, Remembrance Day is a rare opportunity for a united, collective thank you. At most work places and in all schools, at 11 a.m., work pauses and people can reflect. It provides an opportunity for organized displays, the reading of poems, the recounting of veterans’ tales of courage and pain, and most importantly, the solemn education of the youngest Canadians in the facts of war and how much our prosperous and free society has truly cost. For one day a year, for only a few minutes at a time, we take the steps needed to ensure that for at least one more year, the sacrifices made on our behalf will not be forgotten.

Making Nov. 11 a day off would not only make it harder for Canadians to share this time of contemplation and sobriety, but would also fundamentally change the meaning of the day. Even the best-intentioned Canadian, one fully mindful and respectful of the costs of war, would soon have to fight the urge to look forward to Remembrance Day. A day off with the kids, a chance to sleep in or take the dog for a long walk, are things rightly relished, and it would be wrong to deliberately associate Nov. 11 with relaxation and pleasure. If Remembrance Day were to become a holiday, it would virtually guarantee that millions of Ontarians would at some point in their lives think, “Wow, things have been rough at the office lately, but thank God Remembrance Day is coming up. I could really use the chance to relax!” Perhaps some would feel guilt at that passing thought, but before long, and particularly amidst the youngest Ontarians, such sentiments would become the meaning of Remembrance Day. Perhaps they’d know in the back of their minds that it had once meant more, but only in the abstract. The meaning of the day, something that we have maintained for 91 years, would be forever lost.

(The Toronto Star's editorialist agrees. If left and right agree ...)

The meaning's gping to be lost regardless, of course. Canada's last First World War veterans are gone, the Second World War veterans will be gone soon, and Canada has hopefully left the era of the sorts of sanguinary mass conflicts, where the total 157 dead in Afghanistan would count as a skrimish, perhaps a battle over a small town somewhere near the Rhine, or a tree by the Somme. With this gone, and without people knowing so many dead first hand--as a single example, in the Patrick Cain map I linked to previously two dead he found to be brothers in a single household, that coming from the less bloodier second world war--Remembrance Day's meaning is bound to mutate. Keeping it from being a statutory holiday for the reasons enunciated below might slow down the shift, as might another bloody conflict or series of conflicts, but that's it.

I wrote a while back about the controversy surrounding the white poppy, a label decoration founded in explicit contrast to the red. That was a conscious effort to change the holiday. In a decade's time, Afghanistan notwithstanding, the white poppy might be interchangeable with the red.
Tags: canada, first world war, holidays, national identity, popular culture, second world war
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