Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Christianity and Remembrance Day Ceremonies

Jonathan Vance's Death so Noble: Memory Meaning and the First World War (1997) exposes justification as the dominant theme of Canadian remembrance.  Canadians needed to tell themselves a positive story about the Great War that explained the passing of 60,000 brothers, sons, fathers and husbands.  Far from a myth implemented from the ruling elite, common Canadians created a story about the Great War which ordered the chaos of war.  In doing so, many Canadians drew on the Christian symbols to turn tragedy to triumph.

The remembrance day ceremony is one inheritance from this period which still remains in twenty-first-century Canada.  Remembrance day is one of the few public gatherings in which the greater community shares a moment of solemnity.  The moment of silence is central to this ceremony, but few observers realize its underlying Christian meaning.

McKenzie King laying wreath on Parliament Hill, 1937. NAC.
When interwar Canadians sought to understand the sacrifice of their nation's citizen-soldiers, they increasingly turned to the metaphor of Christ.  The soldier, like Christ, was an ordinary man who offered his life for civilization.  In remembrance day ceremonies we insure that fallen soldiers too are immortal.  As Kipling put it,  "Their name liveth for evermore."

RCAF Buglers sound Last Post, Calgary 1953. GA.

The playing of the last post originated in the seventeenth century and was played to announce the end of the day. In today's ceremony it is used to symbolize the death of the soldier, or in our religious metaphor, Christ.  The moment of silence is both a time to reflect upon the dead, and a symbol of Christ's time in the grave.  The moment of silence is broken by Reveille, the traditional announcement of day-break and time to awake for troops.  Here is Christ's resurrection, and our soldier's rise to eternal memory.

Vance, Jonathan. Death so Noble : Memory, Meaning, and the First World War. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997.[Page 49 for the information on Christian metaphor and Remembrance Day Music]

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