There are some who get offended when Christmas lights are put up before Nov. 11. But for some veterans, that very act is what freedom is all about.
Christmas is one and half months after Remembrance Day, but there are people who hang their shimmering red, green and gold decorations before the day Canada honours its soldiers.
Some find the practice offensive. Others, like Leo Jenkins, not at all.
Jenkins sits in a dimly lit lounge in the Royal Canadian Legion building on Blackmarsh Road. A veteran, he served 35 years in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Surrounding him are frames carrying black and white photographs of people in uniforms, medals, and handwritten letters. The pictures stretch from floor to ceiling.
“I don’t find people putting (up) Christmas lights before Remembrance Day disrespectful,” Jenkins said. “They are free to put them (up) whenever they like, all year round if they wish, because we veterans fought for their right to freedom.”
When he was 17, Jenkins wore his uniform for the first time. Thirty five years later, he retired as a chief warrant officer at the age of 56.
Branch 1 legion president Colin Patey stood nearby nodding.
“Because without them, we wouldn’t have the freedom we enjoy today, perhaps not even the freedom to celebrate Christmas.”
They both recently came back from Waterford Valley High school as part of their two-week poppy campaign where they not only raise funds in support of veterans, but talk to students about the past, the war and the painful cost of sacrifice. More than 100,000 Canadians have died in major wars.
“I don’t think people mean disrespect,” Patey said, “but we have a day to celebrate and remember our soldiers, and we should make them our focus. Because without them, we wouldn’t have the freedom we enjoy today, perhaps not even the freedom to celebrate Christmas.”
Although Patey wasn’t a soldier, the military is part of his heart, soul and blood. His parents served in the Second World War, and other branches of his family tree have served in the military, some still to this day.
From treasurer, secretary and vice-president, Patey has served the legion for the past 15 years. He became the president of the legion two years ago. But in all his roles, he speaks about the most important aspect: supporting the veterans in any way he can.
“It’s important to me because I met so many veterans and heard their stories,” Patey said. “They are proud people, not quick to ask for help. But when you sit down with them and listen to them, you learn what they need, and you can help them – to me, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
For Jenkins, Remembrance Day is also about the comrades he lost.
“Canada lost many, many lives through all the wars: First World War, Second World War, Korean War, you name it, and lately Afghanistan,” he said.
He paused briefly.
“I’ve lost good friends.”