I always feel sombre this time of year. The timing of Samhain sort of works, as it’s only 11 days from the observance of Remembrance Day. Remembrance Day is the day during which some Commonwealth countries pay respect to our veterans. It’s on November 11th as a result of the signing of the Armistice.
People flip-flop a bit about this fact, but World War I, and especially battles such as Passchendale, Vimy Ridge, and the Somme, were instrumental in forming Canada’s national identity. Only having been a country since 1867, Canada and Canadians still very much identified as British. World War I gave us notoriety as a separate entity from the British Empire.
I lost an uncle as a result of his injuries in World War II. I’ve heard so much about him, that I wish I had have had the chance. He saved his friends on at least two occasions: one, when he shot an oncoming German soldier while his compatriot was digging a fox hole, and the other, when he threw himself on a grenade to save his troops. He didn’t die of his injuries, but returned to his farm to eschew his prosthetic legs (apparently they were a pain in the ass), and still manage to run the place anyways. Apparently his arms were as big as most people’s thighs. He died in the 70s as a result of his injuries; blood clots tend to happen to people who have had double amputations.
As a result of their heroism in both World Wars, there are places in Europe where a Canadian flag on your backpack will still mean you’ll get dragged into a pub somewhere where someone you’ve never met will insist on buying you a beer. As a Canadian, it means a lot to me to be part of our “peacekeeper” identity. We can safely travel in just about any part of the world, and most of that ability comes from the way we helped people an ocean away during the bleakest points in history. This is a great source of pride for me, and I can’t help but get a little misty eyed for the people who sacrificed so much in order for me to live in this great country.
So, I suppose Samhain feels right for a Canadian around this time of year. It’s the day after that the poppies start to come out, and eleven days before all of Canada stops for one minute at 11 AM. I have nothing connecting me in the 21st century with the people who have bled and died before me; the 1940s seem like forever ago. Nonetheless, I feel the loss of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that I can live my life now in a free and great country.
May they rest in peace, and have the most honourable of places in the halls of their ancestors.