November 11th is a National Holiday in France, but it’s not quite the same as it is back home.
In Canada (and other commonwealth countries), we set aside one day of the year to remember those who have lost due to the tragedy of War. In the US, this same idea is captured by Memorial Day, in May.
Here, they have two days in the year that they remember war, but for them, the days are tied to specific events. In France, November 11th is set aside to honor Armistice Day, or the cessation of World War 1. In May, they set aside time to remember World War 2.
Consequently the ceremonies around the city of Paris were much smaller than I had expected. At 10:45 yesterday I walked down a very empty Champs Elysees to Etoille to watch the ceremony taking place at the Arc de Triumph. At around 11 am, a motorcade drove slowly down the boulevard and stopped at the base of the Arch. Out stepped President Sarkozy, and the German Chancellor Merkel. After a quick promenade around the Arc they jointly carried a wreath to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, listened for the Army chorus to sing their respective National Anthems, stepped back into their vehicles and left. While the ceremony carried almost as much somberness of the one I’m used to watching in Victory Square, it lasted only about 15 minutes from start to finish.
I think the most striking thing of the whole event was watching the crowd that turned out. While it was small, the crowd represented many nations. I heard voices speaking in French, British, North American (USA and Canada, I assume), German, and other dialects. No one nationality dominated the event — this was really a world wide ceremony. And when the last post was played, each person there stopped, waited, listened, and remembered. Together.