National Wreaths Across America Day, when wreaths are thoughtfully placed at gravesites of veterans – is as much about who we are as who they were. It came to pass on the inspiration of a Maine family, which has become a national tradition. In keeping with an appreciation for our blessings, a time in the year marked by hope, light, and gratitude, we remember by doing for others – and remembering what they did for us.
The tradition of placing Christmas wreaths at gravesites – now in more than 2,800 cemeteries, all 50 states, including at Arlington National Cemetery – is relatively new, if placing flowers is timeless.
While some know the story, it is – like others this time of year – worth retelling. A family in Harington, Maine, a seafaring village with scarcely 1000 residents, owned a tree farm. In 1992, “they had a surplus of wreaths during the holiday season.”
Grateful for the Nation’s fallen veterans, they sought assistance from then-Maine Senator Olympia Snowe to put the extra Maine wreaths in a section of Arlington National Cemetery. The idea sprang from a family member who had, in his youth, visited Arlington.
Permission granted, the wreath-laying tradition at Arlington began. Veterans assisted, closing an invisible loop, one that every generation knows, those who served to remember those who served.
But it went far beyond that. Soon Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, volunteers of all kinds, citizens at large would show up to help. Big trucks would arrive in early December, and after moving photographs of the wreaths at graves went viral in 2005, half the country wanted to participate.
And so, in confirmation of a spirit that animates us still, the tradition grew and grew. Civic groups, truckers, and families made the traditional part of their annual pilgrimage – if not to Arlington, then to the resting place of veterans around the country.
In the early 2000s, my son and I participated. By 2008, word was more than out. So many volunteers came to lay wreaths that people outnumbered balsam circs, and still, the tradition grew. That year, Congress created National Wreaths Across America Day, reminding all to remember.
By 2014, Wreaths Across America – born of humble Maine origins – had managed to assure wreaths at all 226,525 gravesites in Arlington, an extraordinary undertaking.
And still, the spirit spread, love of country bubbled up, confluence of Christmas, and appreciation for the gift of freedom radiating across the country. In 2021, “the organization shipped a staggering 1.75 million wreaths to 1,640 locations” across America, where ceremonies honoring our veterans occur.
Even overseas locations are now recipients. The call of freedom, spirit of Christmas – understanding that religious liberty, indeed all our blessings, come back to these few, to the men and women who have made possible all we enjoy.
This year, as in every year for the past 29, those gorgeous wreaths will be laid at quiet gravesites by hands young and old, those who know the cost and loss of war, and those who do not, but who understand – in a distant way – that we must never forget where freedom comes from.
Two million volunteers now participate, and every indication is that – for those who understand, for those who love the country, for those who always have – that number will keep growing.
We live in times of doubt, worry, fear and forgetting. But some do not forget, never will. We honor those who made life as we know it, flush with love and liberty, possible – by never forgetting.
No better time to remember than at Christmas, as an inspired family in a Maine town saw three decades ago. Thank God and goodness, Merry Christmas, and when you see a wreath – pause to smile. We are a lucky lot because so many who traveled this road before us – made it so. Joyeux Noel!
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