Leading up to Remembrance Day, Canadians can rest easy knowing that while there is considerable conversation about the right and wrong way to wear a poppy, there is little debate that they should be worn.
The poppy is so engrained in our traditional commemoration of Remembrance Day that wearing the memento is almost taken for granted. It is not a matter of whether we will wear the poppy, it is a matter of exactly how, and when, to wear the poppy.
According to the Royal Canadian Legion, which distributes the poppy to raise money for veteran’s services, there is no wrong way to wear a poppy. Though some ways are more correct than others.
“The poppy stands out. We use it for remembrance,” Tom Eagles, Dominion President of the Royal Canadian Legion, said this week. “It is a solemn symbol of remembrance of the men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice, but also those men and women who still wear the uniform.”
The poppy is used as a symbol is other countries as well, though not to the same extent. Eagles said the poppy’s use in the U.K. has become commercialized to some extent, unlike in Canada where it is trademarked by the Legion and distributed for free ahead of Remembrance Day (though donations are encouraged).
The poppy’s acceptance appears to be less engrained overseas as well, with a minor wave of opposition growing this year. Controversy first erupted after former pop star Jamelia refused to wear a poppy on television.
According to Yahoo Celebrity UK, Jamelia (who is now a panelist on a The View-style program) said she didn’t feel the need to wear a poppy in the days leading up to Armistice Day, Britain’s version of Remembrance Day.
The response has been visceral. So was the response after the owner of a popular chain of British pubs banned staff from wearing the memento. Management later qualified the ban to kitchen staff only, for safety reasons.
More to the point is this new opponent to the poppy. Harry Leslie Smith, a 91-year-old war veteran who now writes columns for The Guardian, declared his own intention to reject the symbol, saying it had been co-opted by politicians and used to justify their current military objectives.
Over the last 10 years the sepia tone of November has become blood-soaked with paper poppies festooning the lapels of our politicians, newsreaders and business leaders. The most fortunate in our society have turned the solemnity of remembrance for fallen soldiers in ancient wars into a justification for our most recent armed conflicts.
There is no such groundswell in Canada, however. There is little opposition to the poppy, or wearing it well ahead of November 11.
Earlier this week, the Royal Canadian Legion told Yahoo Canada News it expected to distribute 20 million poppies this year, a marked increase from the 18 million it moved last November. This after members of the public tried unsuccessfully to convince the Legion to extend its distribution period.
Political candidates donned the poppy during the Ontario municipal elections as early as October, and television commentators almost unanimously slip the symbol onto their lapel at the earliest opportunity. Though they, like the rest of us, tend to struggle with exactly how to keep it there.
The CBC’s Rosemary Barton has taken to Twitter on more than one occasion to discuss the struggle of losing her poppy.
The result was an impromptu brainstorming session, with Canadians sharing their home remedies for lost poppies.
Some people suggested replacing the poppy’s smooth, straight pin a closable safety pin, or using tape, corks or pencil erasers to block the end so it can’t slip off the lapel.
Some other ideas have gained some traction, but one popular solution actually runs against protocol: Sticking a Canadian flag pin through the centre of the poppy.
Canadian flags, or any other symbol, are not supposed to be mixed with the poppy, according to Legion protocol.
"It is the position of the Legion that the Poppy is the sacred symbol of Remembrance and should not be defaced in any way. No other pin, therefore, should be used to attach it to clothing," the Legion states.
The guidelines do state, however, that it cannot govern what people wear, and that it is “undoubtedly better to wear a Poppy with a Canadian flag in the center than not to wear a Poppy at all.”
As for when to wear the poppy, the timeline is open to interpretation. The Legion says Canadians are welcome to wear their poppies at any time, though the season officially begins on the last Friday of October.
As for how Canadians discard their poppies, the Legion says it should be done respectfully. The most popular idea is to leave it at the base of the cenotaph at the conclusion of the Remembrance Day ceremony.
The guidelines may seem strict, but they’re really not. And they are just guidelines. What is important is that Canadians are dedicated to wearing them. And standing behind what they represent.