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Do you wear a poppy for Remembrance Day?: Some call it a 'performance of patriotism', others a symbol of peace

Alfonso Mattera / 500px via Getty Images

Walter Callaghan, PhD candidate in Medical Anthropology at the University of Toronto and a veteran who served in the Canadian Armed Forces, does not wear a poppy because he believes the politicization of the symbol has diminished what the poppy means.

"For us, it really was and always will be about remembering those that we lost," he says.

The core meaning of what 'remembrance' is very personal to so many people and what they've gone through. Do they have family members who served? Did they serve? But over time, Remembrance Day has become a performance of patriotism and nationalism other than a true Remembrance.Walter Callaghan, PhD candidate, Medical Anthropology, University of Toronto

While many believe that the red poppy has become political and that the politicians use it to help justify war, others believe that one can and should truly wear the red poppy to remember the courage and the sacrifices of the fallen, the veterans who served, and the soldiers who continue to serve.

For instance, Anika Munir, a student at University of Toronto, wears the poppy as a mark of respect and to remember those who sacrificed their lives for the future that we live in today.

"I am able to reflect on all the wars that Canadians have fought in and all those who lost their lives during them by wearing a poppy. I believe that it is important for us to take some time out of our year to remember those who fought and made our history what it is today," she wrote to Yahoo News Canada.

Similarly, MPP for Mississauga-Lakeshore Rudy Cuzzetto, tweeted that everyone should wear a poppy and "take some time to remember and honour the courage, valour, and sacrifice of the fallen, the veterans who served, and the soldiers who continue to serve today."

Either way, the poppy can be divisive. For some, it's a symbol of the glorification of war, or the violence against Indigenous People, the lack of regard for immigrants, or politicization. Some believe that wearing a poppy is a sign of respect and must be worn by everyone to honour all veterans.

Meanwhile, others choose different colours to celebrate Remembrance Day—each carrying a different meaning.

Red, White, and Purple poppies

The Remembrance Day symbolism of the red poppy started with a poem written by a World War I brigade surgeon as he was overwhelmed by the sight of red flowers—known as Flanders poppy or red poppy—growing on a decimated battlefield.

The surgeon, famously known as John McCrae, wrote the famous poem, "In Flanders Field", which became an iconic poem sung at memorial services in all commonwealth nations. Therefore, the red poppy was first adopted by the British and then the Canadians.

However, according to Callaghan, the white poppy predates the red poppy. "The first instance of the white poppy dates back to the British-Russian Crimean War. The white poppy was a commemoration of the dead on both sides," he says.

The white poppy—standing for "never again" and a strong symbolism of peace in the world—became the dominant meaning and popular with many people today.

"It's not completely anti-war but it stands for peace. The idea is that we can't, as a humanity, keep doing this," he added.

Some people also wear a purple poppy. Although less common, it is worn to remember the service animals who die in war.

A service-goer holds a red poppy wreath decorated with white poppies of peace during a service to remember those military personnel and civilians killed in the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan at the Cenotaph in central London, on Armistice Day, November 11, 2006. Millions of people across Britain observed a two-minute silence to remember the nation's war dead on Saturday. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN)
A service-goer holds a red poppy wreath decorated with white poppies of peace during a service to remember those military personnel and civilians killed in the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan at the Cenotaph in central London, on Armistice Day, November 11, 2006. Millions of people across Britain observed a two-minute silence to remember the nation's war dead on Saturday. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN)

Black poppies, on the other hand, are worn sometimes to remember the African, Black and Caribbean communities who contributed to various war efforts.

As time has passed, many people have adopted their own personal ways of commemorating and remembering all veterans.

"Poppy Stories" make this year's offering different

In an effort to move towards more environmental friendly options and also to embrace the digital evolution, the Royal Canadian Legion is hoping to breathe fresh life into the 2022 poppy campaign.

This year, the Legion has introduced biodegradable poppies and wreaths made of natural materials, such as paper and bamboo.

The Legion has also introduced "Poppy Stories", a new initiative that will allow Canadians to scan a labelled Poppy with their smartphone. With every scan, people will be presented with information about the stories of Canadian veterans and the stories of their lives, their roles within the military, and where they served.

"The stories expand on where and how soldiers grew up in Canada, their family history, pre-war careers, and even some of their passions," the Legion's webpage read.

What Canadians are saying