Every fall after Halloween, red poppies begin sprouting from the lapels of Canadians, and those of citizens throughout the British Commonwealth.
Most of us know vaguely that we wear a poppy in the days leading up to and including Remembrance Day to honour our soldiers' sacrifices.
But here are five reasons that you should wear one:
1. Remember Canada's war dead. November 11, the day of armistice that ended fighting in the First World War in 1918, was first marked as a day of remembrance in 1919. It would be another two years before the poppy was used to symbolize those who fell in what was called the war to end all wars.
Although the poppy has been associated with war dead since the Napoleonic era, the wearing of the poppy today is generally linked with the poem In Flanders Fields, by Lt.-Col. John McCrae, a Canadian medical officer serving on the Ypres battle front in the Flanders region of Belgium. He wrote it in May 1915 after the death of a friend, observing how the red flowers sprouted in the makeshift cemetery where casualties were buried.
2. Remember all Canadian veterans. While it initially honoured Canada's war dead, the poppy has evolved as a symbol recognizing the service of all Canadian armed forces personnel in war and peace.
3. Tying past and present sacrifices. The poppy takes on particular significance for Canadians today. Thousands of Canadian soldiers have served in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, most in the hotly contested Kandahar region. Some 158 have died, the latest casualty just last month, and hundreds more suffered serious wounds. Wearing the poppy is no longer just a way to remember some hazy historical event. It's a way to recognize the sacrifices of today's armed forces.
4. Wear the poppy as a symbol of unity with fellow Canadians. We're not big on patriotic bombast in this country, except maybe to belt out the national anthem before hockey games. Wearing the poppy is one way of quietly joining other Canadians in remembrance.
5. Support the Royal Canadian Legion's efforts to help veterans. Proceeds from the annual sale of poppies by the local legions' Poppy Fund goes towards assisting veterans and their families with needs such as dental and eye care, medical needs, shelter and clothing.
When can you start wearing a poppy? Veterans Affairs Canada says it's OK to display them when the poppy-fund drive gets under way. So if you see a legionnaire selling poppies or you've received one in the mail along with a donation request, go ahead and wear it now.