Yesterday was Armistice Day in France and Veterans Day (formerly Armistice Day) in the United States. As such, I decided to plan this week’s lessons for my classes around the holiday. I found two articles that did a good job of concisely explaining the history, what people do, and some of the symbols associated with the day.
Some students were shocked to find out that the majority of schools in the US do not close for Veterans Day. Yet at the same time, students in France (at least my students) don’t do anything to commemorate the holiday. When I got to the point in my lesson where I asked my students to tell me how people celebrate Armistice Day, one girl raised her hand only to say “We don’t.” While the day is a much more somber than celebratory holiday, it is completely normal, and almost expected, to hear and see people thanking our vets in the US. My Facebook news feed was full of posts about Veterans Day yesterday. When I told my students this they assured me that it was not the same for them.
This brings to mind two points. First, I often forget that I wasn’t so different from my students at one time. Don’t get me wrong; there are numerous, glaring differences between high school students in France and the US. But I am discovering that it is easy for me to forget what life was like when I was in high school. I don’t recall speaking about Veterans Day aside from what was discussed together as a class. Yet as I previously mentioned, many schools in the US remain open on Veterans Day, mine being one of them. In this sense, the day was much like a normal day. For my students, many of them spent the day shopping, watching movies, and visiting with friends; simply happy to have a day off school. The second point was brought up by one of my students. Americans are much more overtly patriotic than the French. Blatant and sometimes over the top displays of patriotism are the norm in the US. Seeing a lack of patriotism displayed on a national holiday such as Armistice Day is thus more shocking for an American than the occasional over the top display we have become accustomed to.
I believe it is also important to note that the American holiday is no longer directly comparable to the French holiday. Since Congress approved the change from “Armistice” to “Veterans” in 1954, November 11th has been a day to thank and honor all veterans serving in all branches of the military at any time. In France, Armistice Day remains a commemoration of the signing of the Armistice treaty that brought an end to World War I in 1918.
The last part of my lesson was a song activity. I searched for a song pertaining to the day and came across “The Green Fields of France.” I removed select words from the lyrics and had the students fill in the blanks while listening to the song in class. After listening to the original version and deciding that if I could hardly understand the lyrics through the Scotsman’s heavy accent there was no way my students would be able to, I found a more recent version recorded by Dropkick Murphys. I cannot even being to tell you how many times I have listened to this song over the last week. At this point, Dropkick Murphys have been playing in my head on a constant loop and coincidentally I’ve been reading a book about the IRA. I’m certain that if I moved to Boston tomorrow and posted up in a local pub I would feel right at home.