Remembrance Day should be a holiday. See, Remembrance Day is not a day like any other. The importance of this day is not one of glorifying war, it’s about recognizing the peace we have, it’s about nostalgia, and it’s about loss. When the armistice to end hostilities was signed at the end of World War I, no one thought November 11 was just a regular day, it was the most important day of their lives so far and it has ever been a day to remember. I’ve thought about it and gone over this argument many times and I have come to the straightforward conclusion that making Remembrance Day a holiday is the right thing to do.
The problem with Remembrance Day is not its insignificance, but rather its lack of seeming relevance in the day-to-day lives of most Canadians. Sure, we’re all grateful for the sacrifices others made in the past, but as the last livings veterans of Canada’s major wars die out, and few of us know anyone who served in Afghanistan, it’s becoming easier to imagine November 11 is a regular day. When we were in school, we had Remembrance Day assemblies, and we were made to learn about what the day represents. I still remember the first time I got to perform at our school Remembrance Day assembly with the Junior Choir in grade 3; in fact, I still remember the songs we sang, I have a very emotional attachment to those songs.
But the older we get, the fewer people around us are telling us what to do. No one tells you when to eat lunch anymore, no one cares about most of your day-to-day activities, and certainly, no one is going to tell you when to observe a moment of quiet reflection. Obviously, we don’t need teachers in our adult lives, we are independent people now, after all, but it is so easy when you’re busy with everything else in your life to get completely caught up in your own bubble and forget about the outside world. We need things to look forward to in order to remember things, birthdays come with celebrations with friends, holidays come with time off work, Remembrance Day is the forgotten one; what is there to remind us of its presence? Poppies on jacket lapels? Then what? There are no French horns playing in the streets to remind you that it’s 11 am, there are no morning announcements to recommend a moment of silence to think about veterans or war or peace or fish or whatever you want to think about for a moment of your day that isn’t your life and your problems.
No matter how you dice it, the fact that Remembrance Day sits like any other day in the week means the only people who are able to really observe it and attend city parades are civil servants and retirees. That is not how you keep a tradition alive; traditions need the interest of young people to carry them into the future. We are forgetting Remembrance Day because, crudely, there is no reason to care about it when we have work and school taking over our thoughts.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. I’ve been out of high school for five years now, this will be my fifth Remembrance Day where I am not involved in a celebration as an Air Cadet or with my school. In the last four years, I have had three different experiences with November 11. In my school terms, I managed somehow to miss the day both times, not because I don’t care, but because I had class and homework and group projects and at the end of the day I realized all the superficial things I had been stressed about that day and I thought how sad it was that I had forgotten. In my first fall co-op, I worked for the government in Ottawa, where all civil servants get the day off. I went downtown and stood with what felt like the whole city and it felt fantastic to be part of this amazing celebration of life and sacrifice and remembrance.
When I worked in Whitehorse, I found out all of Western Canada gets the day off. Again, we’re adults, no one is going to make you go a Remembrance Day parade. However, the fact that you have a day off work means you’re not going to forget about the day. You’ll have time to wake up and listen to radio coverage or read through a newspaper, and maybe you’ll spend some time thinking about those that came before us and the trials and tribulations and victories they experienced.
It’s fair that people want children to be in school on November 11 so that they can have the experiences I already described in assemblies. But learning about Remembrance Day is not restricted to the day of; in the lead-up to November 11, we learned about peace and war, we made paper poppies, and we recited songs and poetry. Learning about what the day means is arguably more important than the ceremony because understanding why November 11 is not like any other day in the year is what makes more conscientious adults later on. Taking students out of school on November 11 is not harmful to their education surrounding Armistice Day; it will continue to keep the tradition alive for the next generation because it also allows adults to pay more attention to this important day.