Poppies are plants that have brightly coloured flowers, especially red ones. For British people, the poppy represents the soldiers who died in the two World Wars, especially World War I, because these flowers grew in the fields of France, where many soldiers were killed in battle. People buy red poppies made of paper and wear them on their coats on Remembrance Day, which is often called Poppy Day, to show respect for all the people who died. The deep-red colour of poppies makes them a suitable symbol standing for the bloodshed caused by war.
Remembrance Day is the Sunday closest to November 11th, when each year people in the United Kingdom remember all the people who were killed in the two World Wars. In recent years the custom of observing two minutes silence on the 11th November has been revived. All over the country there are special church services and special ceremonies at war memorials. In London there is a ceremony in which the Queen and the leaders of the main political parties place a wreath (a circular arrangement of flowers) on the Cenotaph (a large war memorial). The money collected by selling red paper poppies on Remembrance Day is given to charity organizations that help people who suffered in the wars. There is a similar occasion in the US and Canada called "Veterans Day".
The Symbolic Significance of Poppies
The poppy stands for the power of sleep and forgetfulness which possesses humans after death and before rebirth. In Greek mythology the poppy is an attribute of Demeter, the goddess of fertility and identified with her symbolically.
In Russia a girl is said to be "as pretty as a poppy", while "to remain a poppy" is to remain an old maid.
Poppies in Art
Long before the Poppy became a symbol of war, many Impressionist painters used poppies as their inspiration. They depicted them in their plein-air (in the open air) landscape paintings.
The French painter Claude Monet painted things that were around him. He wasn't trying to 'say' anything. In his famous oil painting called Poppies Blooming, he was simply illustrating his wife and son walking in the blooming poppies of a field in Argenteuil, a northwestern suburb of Paris.