Remembrance Day in the Netherlands
It turns out that the Netherlands declared itself neutral in WWI, and so were able to (mostly) escape the horrors of one of the bloodiest wars in human history. For the Dutch, November 11th is St. Martin's Day, a Christian holiday converted into a sort of Halloween without the costumes. This isn't to say that the horrors of war aren't recognised in Holland though. As they were occupied during the second world war by the Germans, May 5th marks the Dutch Liberation Day which, as I understand it, is both for celebration and reflection.
For Canadians though, it's a big deal. Some provinces mark it as a holiday (why it's not a national holiday is beyond me), and everywhere, regardless of time off, cities close off streets to accommodate the thousands of people who attend. Veterans march and non-veterans clap... but we don't cheer. A poem is read, sometimes even sung by a children's chorus, wreaths are laid, and war planes fly overhead. At 11:11, a moment of silence is had, and the children in the crowd are left to stir and wonder why everyone has stopped talking all of a sudden.
It's been a ritual for me for as long as I can remember. I would go with my veteran grandfather to the old cenotaph in Abbotsford, and when I moved to Ontario, I took part in the massive ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa or Old City Hall in Toronto. When I returned to Vancouver, long after my grandfather had died, I was always at Victory Square for the morning. I've only once missed the ceremony before today, when I was in Korea, where the day was transformed into a corporate holiday to sell chocolate.
There may not have been a ceremony, but for my part at least, there was an observance. I took a few minutes, left my phone at the office and walked into the central square here in Bussum, waiting quietly in silence for the moment to pass. I watched people go about their lives, shopping, playing with their kids, and riding their bikes, while I tried to imagine what it must have been like to live here while the Germans had occupied the country during WWII: I couldn't do it. I really can't understand what it must have been like for the Dutch to have their home occupied by a violent, racist invader. We Canadians attacked and liberated, but we've never known what it was like to be conquered. I guess this is another part of my European learning experience: perspective.