Photo by Tina Wallace
Starbucks wasted no time after Halloween this year to shift their store focus away from pumpkin spice lattes and fall decorations, releasing their holiday cups and specialty drinks promptly on Nov. 1. While many might think the most contentious part of this decision is the coinciding release of Christmas music into unprepared ears, perhaps we should be more concerned that the mass commercialization of Halloween and Christmas has arguably belittled the importance of Remembrance Day.
A growing number of Canadian veterans and concerned citizens have begun objecting to the prioritization of Christmas ahead of Remembrance Day. A Facebook group was created last year called “For those against Christmas specials and decorations before Remembrance Day” and in a letter to the Battlefords News Optimist in Battleford, Sask. on Oct. 24, Cheryl Carley, the granddaughter of a soldier who served in the First World War, asked all local businesses to refrain from putting up Christmas decorations and displays until after Remembrance Day because “it is just the right thing to do.”
Carley and other such critics raise an important point. The holidays are something we should be thankful for, but we shouldn’t forget the sacrifices that gave us the luxury of celebrating them with those we love most. It’s time we demand businesses hold back on the holidays until after Nov. 11. Christmas sells hot chocolates, but such blatant disregard for the one day a year our country honours veterans is an insult to anyone who once put their country ahead of themselves.
But the problems with how Canadians respect Remembrance Day don’t begin or end with coffee shops. Nov. 11 is a statutory holiday in all three Canadian territories but only six provinces. In Ontario, it’s a holiday for only government workers. And while most retail businesses are required to close until 12:30 p.m. in accordance with the City of Ottawa’s Remembrance Day By-law 2008–355, the rest of the day is business as usual.
At the University of Ottawa, students cannot be penalized for missing their 10 a.m. classes, but these classes aren’t cancelled. Students are instead forced to decide between falling behind or honouring veterans—a decision that shouldn’t have to be made.
Our federal government should make Nov. 11 a national statutory holiday. But until that happens, our university should step up and cancel all classes for Remembrance Day. This would not only serve as a symbolic gesture of our respect to veterans, but would also give students the opportunity to attend the ceremony at Parliament without having to miss a morning class or rush back for an 11:30 a.m. class.
The Canadian War Museum encourages intergenerational learning on Remembrance Day each year by inviting veterans to speak with school groups about their personal experiences of war. This interactive form of education has been identified by the BC Care Providers Association as the best way “to promote learning, understanding, and mutual respect between generations.”
As an institution dedicated to higher learning, our university should also provide such opportunities for intergenerational learning on Nov. 11. Hosting specialized lectures to educate students about the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers and peacekeepers or inviting veterans on campus to share their own stories with students would effectively encourage thought-provoking reflection than a sparsely-attended hour-long ceremony at Tabaret Hall.
Perhaps if Canadian business owners, university administrations, and legislators had spoken more with veterans when they were students, we wouldn’t be working, studying, or drinking from holiday cups on Nov. 11. We would be remembering.