I can’t remember exactly how long ago it was, but I first became aware of the issue one day when my wife and I were visiting her grandfather. We were sitting watching the news on TV, when a story came on about a Royal Canadian Legion branch in New Brunswick being upset because a local mall had put up Christmas decorations before November 11th. The person who was speaking on behalf of the legion said that decorating for Christmas before Remembrance Day was disrespectful to veterans who had fought for our country. I remember Jaime and I both looked at each other, then we looked at her grandfather. He had this look on his face like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. ”What do you think of that, Grampa?” Jaime asked. “That’s foolishness,” he replied. “That’s not what I fought for. I fought for freedom. You should be able to put your decorations up whenever you want.” He added, “What war did that fella fight in, anyway?” As far as Jaime and I were concerned, the issue had been decided, by no less authority than a WWII veteran.
Since then, however, it seems that the issue has not gone away. Every year, at around the end of October, the rumblings begin. It’s difficult to avoid seeing or hearing, especially with the prevalence of social media, pleas from people who believe it is disrespectful to put up Christmas decorations before Remembrance Day. This October, I actually decided that I would try to determine where the idea of “disrespectful decorating” began.
I started with Veterans Affairs Canada. I could find no indication on the website that Christmas decorations were disrespectful to veterans. I did find a wonderful list, “50 Ways to Remember.” Each item in the list begins with a proactive verb, words like “invite,” “plan,” “show,” “listen,” and “wear,” and contains no prohibitions. Similarly, a perusal of the Royal Canadian Legion website was a very positive experience, albeit one which yielded no mention of Christmas decorations at all. I decided to expand my search.
I didn’t find much. Internet searches, no matter what different parameters I used, always brought me to the same places; blogs, news boards, and radio stations’ websites. Invariably, the discussion would begin with a post in the form of an opinion essay or a question, either stating that or asking whether Christmas decorations before November 11th was disrespectful to veterans. These would be followed by comments, a few or many depending on the website, where the opinions varied greatly. While some chimed in with complete agreement, others opined that soldiers fought for freedom, including the freedom to decorate whenever. There was a common thread that I noticed, though; regardless of which side a person was on, quite a large number seemed to have distaste for how the Christmas shopping season seems to begin earlier and earlier every year.
For as long as I can remember, I have heard people complain that Christmas has become too commercialized, that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost. I can’t help wondering, then, whether the idea of decorating before Remembrance Day is part of some larger greater idea. Remembrance Day is, arguably, the most important “occasion” on our calendar. It is a special day unlike any other that we celebrate, in that it comes without a glut of spending and shopping. We wear a poppy. We observe a moment of silence. Perhaps we attend a ceremony. We do these things to commemorate peace; that is the significance of the date. We pause to remember the men and women who sacrificed for the idea that there is a greater good. It is the most selfless of our “holidays.” When I hear people complaining that the stores are decorating for Christmas before the Hallowe’en decorations are put away,that the malls are already playing Christmas music, I can’t help thinking that it’s not Christmas they’re protesting. No, I think that what they want is for it all to mean more.
Just recently, I noticed an item in the news. Shoppers Drug Mart had begun playing Christmas music in its stores on November 1st, but due to a “barrage of complaints,” had decided to suspend the practice until later in the month. There was no mention of Remembrance Day, just frustration with what has come to be known as “Christmas Creep.” Now this was more than just mere complaining, or sharing a meme on facebook (The one that is making the rounds this year says “Please don’t put up decorations until Nov. 12th. Respect our veterans!”). The idea had grown into something else. It had spurred people to act, and that action had results. This is how social movements begin, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I was seeing the beginnings of such a movement.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw the first Legion poppy display. I approached, placed some money in the container, and as I have done for as long as I can remember, as I taught my children to do, I asked the veteran behind the table if he would mind pinning my poppy to my shirt. He smiled, said he would do his best (I would expect nothing less), and rose (a little stiffly) to fulfill my request. When he had finished, I thanked him. When he had responded, I thanked him again, and he smiled again in understanding.
I love Remembrance Day, and what it represents. I also love Christmas, and the idea of togetherness, celebration, family, friends, giving. In my mind, the spirit of these two special days is something that we would all do well to keep in our thoughts and in our hearts every day.
This past weekend, Jaime and I drove to Cape Breton to visit her grandfather. During our previous visit, we had promised to return to make him a goose dinner for his 89th birthday. Jaime and I love travelling together, we love visiting her “grampa,” and we were excited about our errand. As we passed the Halifax airport, Jaime popped in a CD, and we sang along with Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Burl Ives, and others, in a state of pure joy, appreciation, and gratitude, perfectly aware of just how lucky we are to have the opportunity.