17 December 2007

Holidays & Celebrations:
November 11, 1918

By Eliza Tucker

On November 11, 1918, the Allied Forces and Germany signed an armistice agreement that signaled the ceasefire on the Western Front. This marked the end of World War I, even though fighting continued in other regions, such as Russia and the Ottoman Empire.

In the United States, the truce was met with great celebrations, even though the country's involvement in the war had only lasted a little over a year and a half. A year later Americans were still feeling the effects of the war, and a good number of soldiers who had not been reported dead had been left behind. New York City, with the rest of the country, planned elaborate meetings and parades to remember the day the truce was made, and no social leader gave up the opportunity to remind his audience of Patriotism and to preach against the continuing threats of anarchy and communism. The following quotes are pulled from a November 12, 1919 article that ran in the New York Times.

With a note of solemnity that contrasted sharply with the delirious joy with which the singing of the armistice was greeted a year ago, city, Sate, and nation yesterday observed the second Armistice Day with tributes to the memory of the heroic dead.

Combined with the eulogies of heroism that rises supreme in the history of the conflict were warnings from clergymen, from soldiers, and from statesmen to make swift action against Bolshevism and other forces of disintegration so "that these dead shall not have died in vain."

In all the exercises in observance of the first anniversary of the signing of armistice which brought to a close the world's greatest war to the most impressive moment was when audiences stood with bowed heads in a moment of silent prayer for those who perished on the fields of battle. None of the speakers failed to point out, and none of the audiences failed to recognize, that those who paid most dearly for victory were the soldiers whose names were missing from the muster rolls when the guns were hushed.

More than 100 separate meetings and memorial services were held in this city yesterday under the auspices of the American-Legion and the veterans of the regiments and military organizations which took their part in the war. In the schools the pupils heard tales of new heroes whose bravery rivals that of the outstanding figures of other wars. In many sections of the city these pupils joined the veterans in impressive pageants of victory.

Throughout the city the joyous celebration of the signing of the armistice was forgotten. Remembered only was the feeling that every citizen felt when he saw that immense field of gold stars borne past in tribute to the dead.

In cities throughout the country the same note of solemnity prevailed, and in none was the ceremony of paying tribute to the fallen a minor part of he exercises. Six States had set aside the day as an official holiday, and in their proclamations the Governors had expressed a desire that the Armistice Day should be observed in the same manner as Memorial Day had been observed since the idea was adopted, in tribute to the veterans of the civil war.

In twenty-two other states, where no holiday had been proclaimed, exercises were held under the auspices of the State Governments and the State military forces took part in the ceremonies. In the State, the New York Guard turned out to aid in the membership drive of the American Red Cross, which had set aside this day to make a special effort in memory of those who were killed or wounded on the battlefields.
The rest of the article is available here (.pdf file)

The 1919 push to make Armistice Day a national holiday succeeded. America isn't the only country to recognize the truce annually. In Australia, Canada, and the UK, it's called Remembrance Day; in South Africa and Malta it's Poppy Day per the red poppies worn in recognition of the poppies that bloomed in many of the Belgium burial grounds, as referenced in John McCrae's famous poem, "In Flanders Field." On November 11, Poland celebrates Independence Day, per its reinstatement of sovereignty after 120+ years of foreign rule. In New Zealand and France it's still called Armistice Day. After World War II, the US renamed Armistice Day "Veteran's Day."

As for me? I celebrate the day as the advent of the holiday season by remembering the celebrations for peace that took place nearly ninety years ago.

Here's hoping for peace on earth, and good will toward men. May these things begin in your home and spread into your community.

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