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'When did people stop wearing poppies?' Canadian Reddit thread asks

A Redditor took to the platform to reflect on why it appears that fewer people are wearing poppies leading up to Remembrance Day, Nov. 11

Mary Simon, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada, presents a poppy to Veteran Roland Lalonde   during a ceremony to launch this year's National Poppy Campaign at Rideau Hall on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mary Simon, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada, presents a poppy to Veteran Roland Lalonde during a ceremony to launch this year's National Poppy Campaign at Rideau Hall on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

A Redditor recently took to the platform to reflect on why it appears that fewer people are wearing poppies leading up to Remembrance Day, with the replies in the post ranging from practical to political.

But one expert says some might be misinterpreting what wearing a poppy symbolizes.

Redditor asks: 'When did people stop wearing poppies?'

In the Reddit post titled “Poppies,” the user @ModernCaesar asks: "When did people stop wearing poppies?"

They note that 10 years ago, it was commonplace to see people wearing poppies at the start of November, leading up to the 11th. But when they were recently at a busy mall, they had only observed four people wearing them. They then posed the question: “If you aren't wearing one, or not planning to, is there any good reason why not?”

In the replies, many noted at how easily the pins fall out.

“I bought 3 already and (lost) them within a few hours,” one commenter said.

“Haven’t run into anybody selling them yet,” another added. “I’ll pick one up and put it on when I do.”

Another said they "donate every year," but don't feel the need to wear a "pin or adornment ... to indicate to society at large what I am supporting."

One commenter admitted though they'd long been a poppy wearer, they "have struggled in the last few years."

"I have a friend who joined the armed forces about a decade ago," they shared. "The longer he is in, the more negative things he and his peers have to say about the Legion (to whom the donations go)."

The same user added: "I am starting to struggle because poppies have become associated with patriotism, and patriotism has become politicized in a really awful way. I think the decline in poppies is happening right alongside a decline in people displaying the Canadian flag for fear of being associated with "those people,'" which the "exhauster" commenter suggested patriotism got "wrapped up with the convoy idiots."

Several posters expressed caution about donating to the Legion, which they felt wasn’t a bipartisan organization, leaning in favour of the Conservative party in Canada, and the Tory party in the UK.

"The Legions are usually very best friends forever and ever with the Conservative party with all that can imply," a user said. "I find myself working with them for various things and [it's] a bit...hazy...what good works they are doing.

Expert: Poppies are about loss

Jonathan Vance is a distinguished professor in the department of history at Western University. He says the connection between poppies and patriotism is “way out in left field.”

“It was never intended to be about patriotism,” he tells Yahoo Canada. “The poppy is about loss.”

According to the Royal Canadian Legion, the idea behind the poppy as a symbol of remembrance began with a French woman named Anna Guérin who was inspired by John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields.” She had founded a charity to help rebuild parts of France after the First World War and created poppies made of fabric in an effort to raise funds.

She later presented her idea to allied countries, including the precursor to The Royal Canadian Legion at a meeting in what is now Thunder Bay. It was accepted in 1921, which was the official beginning of the lapel poppy we know today.

The Legion encourages people to wear the pin for the funeral of a veteran and for any commemorative event honouring fallen veterans.

Another aspect could be that we’re in the age of social media, where platforms like Facebook have a feature that allows users to display a poppy in their profile photo.

“Putting a poppy on your Facebook picture requires a lot less effort than making sure you got one, making sure it doesn’t get pulled through by your seatbelt, making sure it’s put on properly,” Vance says. “These are little things but they indicate a higher level of commitment.”

President Barack Obama takes a look at Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper's poppy lapel pin, in honor of Remembrance Day, during a family photo at the G20 Summit in Cannes, France, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama takes a look at Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper's poppy lapel pin, in honor of Remembrance Day, during a family photo at the G20 Summit in Cannes, France, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Debate around poppies goes back decades

Vance says the debate around poppies goes back decades, with some people who feel the symbolic gesture celebrates militarism. Vance says that feeling about poppies and Remembrance day as a whole is also misguided.

“It’s a substitute funeral and the war memorials in which the ceremonies take place is a substitute grave,” he says. “To see that is it somehow (interpreted as) a celebration of militarism or patriotism means people like me aren’t teaching history well enough.”

He adds that it’s natural for any public observance to be constantly renegotiated and reinvented, but when it stops being discussed, it’s no longer relevant.

“When people stop caring enough to talk about it, that’s when you know it’s on the way out,” Vance says.

Legion distributes 20M poppies annually

In an email, a spokesperson for The Royal Canadian Legion noted that the non-profit distributes close to 20 million poppies across the country each year. Volunteers don’t sell poppies but rather offer them for donation, but if someone is not in the position to donate, they are welcome to take one. In response to fewer people carrying cash, the Legion added a “Pay Tribute” tap to give boxes, so people can use a tap-enabled device to donate.

In regards to whether fewer people wear the poppy, the representative said that some people may choose to wear a poppy on their clothing not their jacket, they may not have had a chance to pick one up yet, or it may have fallen off.