Yesterday, I was leaving the grocery store when the cashier told me to take my poppy off (it was still pinned to my coat). She said that Remembrance Day was over, and that it was offensive of me to leave it on. I was taken aback by her comment and said “So, we’re only supposed to remember the veterans for 2 weeks a year?” I can’t tell if she was trying to brush off the comment to avoid any further discussion or if she simply had no clue what she was talking about, but she replied, “It’s just the way it is.” The woman in line behind me then chimed in with a simple “Leave it on” and smiled at me as I grabbed my bags and left.
But first, a quick history lesson, brought to you by the good people at Wikipedia:
The remembrance poppy (a Papaver rhoeas) has been used since 1920 to commemorate soldiers who have died in war. Inspired by the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields”, they were first used by the American Legion to commemorate American soldiers who died in that war (1914–1918). They were then adopted by military veterans’ groups in the Commonwealth; especially the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Today, they are mainly used in the UK and Canada to commemorate their servicemen and women who have been killed since 1914. There, small artificial poppies are often worn on clothing on Remembrance Day/Armistice Day (11 November) and in the weeks before it.
War is a touchy subject, and naturally I have my opinions on the subject. I was not, however, trying to make any sort of political statement or purposely be disrespectful by leaving my poppy on – I honestly had just forgotten it was still there. If anything, I’d think that leaving the poppy on after Remembrance Day would be a good thing. Wouldn’t it?
Well, apparently some people out there claim it is disrespectful.
One article, by Citytv.com I found online, states:
“…Most people don poppies about two weeks before Remembrance Day. But you shouldn’t be sporting them in the days afterwards, although many do, thinking it’s a sign of respect. The poppy is actually supposed to be left on the tomb at the place where the ceremony is held, a final sign of respect for the fallen soldiers who never came home. Or they can be worn for the remainder of the day. But once November 12th comes, the poppies should be gone.” [ Source ]
Another eHow article on Poppy Etiquette states:
“A couple of different schools of thought exist on when to wear your poppy to commemorate Remembrance Day. Generally poppies should be worn from November 1 until Remembrance Day (traditionally referred to as Armistice Day) on November 11. […] The Royal British Legion says that poppies can be worn from October 22 onward. Remove poppies on November 12, which makes the official Remembrance Day the last day you wear it.” [ Source ]
Forgive my hesitation to take a 2008 article from Citytv.com and another from eHow as credible sources, but those are the only sources I could find that claimed my unintentional action was disrespectful.
When I quickly searched the Royal British Legion website directly, it says:
“You can wear a Poppy at any time of the year to show your support.” [ Source ]
“You can wear a Poppy all year round but traditionally people stop wearing a Poppy after Armistice Day on 11th November or Remembrance Sunday, whichever is later.” [ Source ]
As a Canadian, I went right to the source. According to the Royal Canadian Legion’s website:
“When is a poppy worn? – There is no set period when the Poppy should be worn. In fact, a person may wear a Poppy at any time. Traditionally, however, the Poppy is worn during the Remembrance period, which is from the last Friday in October to the end of the day on 11 November.” [ Source ]
“When should a Poppy be removed? – The lapel Poppy is worn throughout the whole of the Remembrance period. While it is normally removed at the end of the day on 11 November, many people now place their Poppy at the base of the cenotaph at the end of the Remembrance Day Ceremony as a sign of respect to veterans. This is fully acceptable.” [ Source ]
The sources claiming it is offensive or disrespectful are misleading and/or taking what is “acceptable” according to the Legion and claiming that it’s “actually supposed to” happen. So there you have it, right from the veterans themselves, I was not being offensive.
There are a lot of issues raised around the subject of wearing a poppy: Right side or left side? Green center or black? Red poppy or white? Choosing not to wear a poppy. Refusing to wear a poppy. Employees and students being told to remove their poppy from their work uniform. And of course, how to get the thing to stay on for more than 10 minutes.
No matter what your stand is on war or poppy etiquette, calling someone offensive by leaving their poppy on is actually, ironically, offensive – and incorrect. Is it “offensive” to wear a pink ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness outside of October? Is it” offensive” for men to grow moustaches in any month other than November? No – so why would wearing a poppy be considered offensive?
And speaking of offensive things, have you seen the episode of South Park, entitled “A Scause for Applause”? If not, you should. (I was trying to think of a witty way to include some of the genius satire of the episode into this post, as it’s quite relevant, but alas, the best I could think of was this lame plug at the end of my post.) But here’s a fun pictures to look at!