I never knew about the significance of the November poppy for certain countries until I left to study in Brussels back in 2004. Now, I notice it. Every November, I notice the poppy. My wife pins a red flower with a black middle onto her coat. I see it on NHL hockey coaches. I see it on English football players.
And I wonder: why do I not see the poppy on Americans? Was this always the case?
As it turns out, we do have a poppy tradition! The “Buddy Poppy” was produced by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in the 1920s, to be worn around Memorial Day. Getting senior US officials to rally behind the custom was an important step in raising the stature of the tradition. Here is President Franklin D. Roosevelt accepting a “Buddy Poppy” in 1937:
FDR accepting a “Buddy Poppy” (Library of Congress, 1937)
[Personal note: I would like to think the poppy ritual reminds us why war is such an awful thing; that we continue consider war as only an act of last resort; and that we remember that as much as it is possible that wars may go on forever, it is also possible to eliminate war altogether. Obviously, it’s not for me to endorse the poppy tradition, or tell you whether you should wear it in May or November. However, I do hope this gives you pause to think over what it means and make an informed, personal choice.]