Armistice Day is a holiday celebrated annually on 11 November to commemorate the end of World War I and the service of armed forces around the world. The tradition was begun in England, though Canada, France, Belgium, Australia, and New Zealand also participate. In the United States, the holiday is called Veteran’s Day and has evolved into a broad remembrance day for soldiers who fought in any American war.
Celebrating the End of the Great War
In November of 1918, the toll of World War I — called at that time “The Great War” — had reached exceptionally high numbers. Under threat of countryside rebellion, German forces sought a meeting with the Allied forces to hammer out a peace treaty, known as an armistice. Famously, the treaty was made effective at 11 AM on 11 November, giving it the interesting historic distinction of being ratified at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The armistice ended fighting on the Western Front, an agreement that would be confirmed by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
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Creation of a National Holiday
The next year, England’s King George V declared 11 November “Armistice Day,” a national holiday to honor the men who had defended England during the war. Banks, schools, and most public offices are mandated to be closed in observation of the day. At that time, the world had never seen a war as devastating as the conflict wracking Europe. Approximately 40 million of the world’s citizens died during the war, many due to battle and many more to disease and bad conditions. The original Armistice Day was the first dawning of hope for Europe for many years, and it is deservedly remembered as a great human triumph.
Other countries with soldiers in the war quickly followed England’s lead and established similar national holidays of their own. Most of the original allied forces celebrate Armistice Day in some form or another.
Ways to Commemorate the Day
Different countries have different traditions when it comes to celebrating and remembering the day, but common activities include visiting the graves of soldiers killed in the war and holding parades, concerts, and events in honor of veterans. Many countries have also adopted the tradition of wearing red poppies or decorating graves with these flowers on Armistice Day. The origin of this form of remembrance traces back to a famous poem about the war by Scottish soldier and veteran John McCrae called “In Flanders Field.” The first line of the poem mentions poppies growing over the graves of soldiers, and the verse became one of the most famous memorials of the war. Even today, some refer to Armistice Day as Poppy Day, and many people wear a pin with real or artificial flowers.
Growth and Expansion Over the Years
Armistice Day traditions have grown and expanded as the world has undergone more wars. After World War II, the United States changed the name of its official holiday to Veteran’s Day to cover the veterans of all wars. Veteran’s Day mirrors the corresponding American Memorial Day, which is held each May. In the United Kingdom, many of the traditions that were originally part of Armistice Day observances are now celebrated on the nearby Remembrance Sunday, held the second Sunday of each November.