IT WAS EXACTLY on Nov. 1 that some of the neighbourhood pumpkins showed a last candle-less unglamorous grin before they were replaced with Christmas light garlands. An early bird special, I thought, but isn’t the day after Halloween too early?
I found myself nodding approvingly at one person’s opinion on the subject featured in a CBC interview. Calgary businessman and philanthropist Brett Wilson insists on businesses showing their respect towards veterans by waiting until after Remembrance Day to put up the Christmas decorations and merchandise.
I scrolled to the end of the article to see what people think. Readers’ opinions on the matter covered the whole spectrum. Some were fully supporting the idea while others said they do not yield to any kind of emotional blackmail and that everyone has the right to do as they please since this is a free country. True. It is because someone stood for freedom and many died for it. Showing our respects is the least we can do.
Some places have it different, though. A few days ago, my family and I traveled to the Kootenays. Our main destination was Kaslo. From there we explored Sandon, Zincton and Cody, and hiked to another long-forgotten place, Alamo. Silence and old shoddy constructions, all soaked in history. Lots of imprints of times past to see and learn from.
One of the highlights of the trip was seeing poppy wreaths in the windows of small local stores in Kaslo: from bakeries and bookstores to clothing stores and thrift stores, the message was heartwarming: Lest we forget.
We drove home through New Denver, where we stopped for a stroll. The museum was closed but had a rich window display: poppy wreaths laid among old notebooks, helmets, and other war memorabilia. The coffee shop up the street had a small wreath in the window and so did the grocery store we walked by.
That is when I realized that as well-intentioned as Brett Wilson is, he may not be able to stop the big rolling wheel of corporate marketing that follows seasons with the determination of a bloodhound. A large international corporation, most often than not, makes little if any room for non-sales days like Remembrance Day. On which shelf of the big box stores does respect for the country’s veterans fit in, anyway?
It is up to the small local businesses whose owners might have had a family member or know people from the community who were in a war to have a wreath in the window by the time November rolls around. A community that thinks like a community honours those whose sacrifice they’ve come to know over the years. It’s what keeps the young ones learning and hopefully willing to wear a poppy with pride and respect.
Which takes me to the next point: if we are to see the Remembrance Day wreaths instead of Christmas decorations before November 11, we must bring up the history books and learn about what it took to be here. We must teach our children about the treacherous paths and high mountain roads their predecessors took for the country to be where it is today.
If we are to grow a solid community, countrywide, we cannot misplace or ignore the roots that carry so much within. I’ve heard people say they did not support the war in Afghanistan, for example, therefore they will not wear a poppy to show their respects to veterans. But Remembrance Day is not about any specific veterans or wars.
One can argue that some wars took much heavier tolls and that is true but to classify veterans or decide whether to show our respect or not based on that is downright immoral. Wars often carry controversy but our mandate is not to judge, but rather learn from the past and hopefully decide to have a say in how the present and future shape up.
It’s such a small thing in the end, representing so much. Setting aside everything else for a few days a year to make room for the wreaths, poppies, and the long-lost stories of valiance, sacrifice and survival that often defy any logic, is but one way to show that whenever we raise our voices to sing the anthem we are not just mouthing the words but allowing our thoughts to sink in gratefulness and respect.
That might just prevent heartbreaking stories like the one of Cpl. Justin Stark, an Afghanistan veteran who committed suicide after his tour, though he was not documented to have had PTSD. Back in 2014 the Canadian government send a one cent cheque to his parents. Not that anyone could put a price on human life, but a 1-cent cheque ‘release pay’ is a disgrace to all involved. As of this year, that mistake was rectified and the soldier was honoured with a Silver Cross.
In the end, it is not about anyone’s right to delay putting up Christmas decorations before Remembrance Day. We each have the right to do as we please. Yet when we choose to honour those who have fought for our freedom and rights and are willing to do it again if it is asked of them, we all benefit.
We create a place where deep-seated respect for human life, for one’s country and for those who serve it arm in hand whenever needed, is kept alive. We more than mouth the words of our anthem; we sing them out loud and with reverence. Because we can. Because someone saw to it and someone else still does. Lest we forget.