When I was a child, we all bought and wore crepe paper poppies to honor the fallen of all wars. I haven’t seen a single poppy seller this year, but I still think of poppies on Memorial Day. Do you, too?
The symbolism of the poppy started with a poem written by a World War I brigade surgeon who was struck by the sight of the red flowers growing on a ravaged battlefield.
The brutal clashes between Allied and Central Powers soldiers tore up fields and forests, wreaking havoc on
the soil beneath. But in the spring of 1915, bright red flowers began peeking through the battle-scarred land.
Moina Michael, in the US, read “In Flanders Field” in the pages of Ladies’ Home Journal that November. As a remembrance of the sacrifices of Flanders Field, Michael vowed to always wear a red poppy. After the war ended, she came up with the idea of making and selling red silk poppies to raise money to support returning veterans.
It took aother woman to make the poppy an international symbol. A Frenchwoman named Anna Guérin had championed the symbolic power of the red poppy from the beginning.
Today, millions of people in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Belgium, Australia and New Zealand don the red flowers every November 11 (known as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day) to commemorate the anniversary of the 1918 armistice. The Poppy Factory (located in Richmond, England and Edinburgh, Scotland) is still the center of poppy production, churning out as many as 45 million poppies each year.
In the United States, the tradition has developed a little differently. Americans don’t typically wear poppies on November 11 (Veterans Day), which honors all living veterans. Instead, they wear the symbolic red flower on Memorial Day—the last Monday in May—to commemorate the sacrifice of so many men and women who have given their lives fighting for their country. On September 27, 1920, the poppy became the official flower of The American Legion to memorialize the soldiers who fought and died during the war. In 1924, the distribution of poppies became a national program of The American Legion.
And now for some “politically correct” action from those who do not know history:
The poppy was deemed offensive because it was mistakenly assumed to be connected with First and Second Opium Wars of the 19th century. In 2012, there was controversy when The Northern Whig public house in Belfast refused entry to a man wearing a remembrance poppy. Citation
If you’d like to stock up for next year, you can buy a dozen lapel pins to hand out here, or packets of poppy seeds to strew about, here. Buy crepe-paper poppies to help the American Legion raise funds here.