Wreaths Across America; A Wonderful Holiday Tradition

“Remember.  Honor.  Teach.”  -Wreaths Across America Mission

I am the daughter of a former United States Marine and I am very proud of his service. 

In 2015, my dad and I attended our first Wreaths Across America wreath-laying ceremony at Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery.   And while today’s blog is not necessarily about the usual travel content, I know that many of you enjoy volunteering as part of your vacations, especially during the holidays, so I wanted to share a great way to celebrate the holiday season and to honor our military.  If you would like to participate, this could be a great volunteer travel experience to Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C.

Dad and me in 2015, Our First Wreath-Laying

Wreaths Across America: How it all started

In 1992, Worcester Wreath Company, located in Maine, ended their holiday season with a surplus of wreaths, With the assistance of Maine’s Senator, the company donated their surplus wreaths to honor military veterans who were buried in a rarely visited section of Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C.  The family who owns Worcester Wreath Company continued to make private donations for 15 years until a 2006 photo of their snow-covered wreaths went viral,  spawning spontaneous donations from people touched by what the wreaths represented. 

With no formal way to accept donations at the time, those initial donations were returned to donors.  However, in 2007, after continuing to receive thousands of requests to help with wreath donations, Worcester Wreath Company partnered with key leadership of Arlington Cemetery to establish Wreaths Across America. Today, Worcester Wreath Company remains one of the largest donors and produces sponsored wreaths at a discounted market price. 

The Wreaths and their purpose

Each year, the simple evergreen wreaths are adorned with a red bow and symbolize everlasting life.  As volunteers place their wreaths, we are asked to remember the service and sacrifice the service member made for our country; honor our service members by the laying of a wreath and speaking their name; and teach the generations behind us to carry on WAA’s mission of remember, honor, and teach. 

Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery after the wreath-laying ceremony

Where and when does the wreath-laying happen?

The wreath-laying ceremonies take place at Arlington Cemetery and the Washington D.C. war monuments and more than 3,000 locations across the United States.  Typically, the ceremonies are scheduled for the second or third Saturday of December but dates and times could vary by cemetery so be sure to check the website of your local cemetery for their individual dates, times, directions, and to sign up as a volunteer.

The annual wreath-laying is a very family-friendly, community event.  Over the years, we have been joined for the wreath-laying at our local veteran’s cemetery by groups of all types such as Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, ROTC students, individuals, families, and representatives of all branches of the military.  You don’t have to be a member of the military or even know anyone who served. Anyone that wishes to participate is welcome to volunteer and we have met some of the kindest people each year as together we’ve shared the experience of giving back.

Washington D.C. Vietnam Memorial

Another great way to participate each year; Sponsor a wreath

If you want to participate but don’t have access to a participating cemetery or you are unable to physically join the ceremony, another great way to remember, honor, and teach is by sponsoring a wreath.  Donations are accepted year-round and the easiest way to donate is directly on the Wreaths Across America website at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.  You may also reach out to your local veteran’s cemetery and donate directly to them for their wreath ceremony. 

2021’s Wreath Laying

According to Karen Worcester, Executive Director of Wreaths Across America, in 2021, more than 2 million volunteers placed 2.4 million veterans’ wreaths at 3,136 participating locations across the United States. At Arlington Cemetery, 66 tractor trailers delivered over 250,000 wreaths that were placed by nearly 38,000 volunteers, many of whom were children, some participating for the first time. Those are truly some impressive and humbling numbers.

In 2019, our family became a “Red Flag Family” for the first time.  My mother’s brother proudly served in the Coast Guard and when he passed away, he was interred in our local veteran’s cemetery.  On the day of the wreath-laying, a red flag signifies that the family will be placing the wreath for that gravesite allowing volunteers to know that the gravesite will not be missed. It is a wonderful way to honor his life and service.

For my dad and me, participating in the annual wreath-laying has become a special holiday tradition spent together honoring his service as well as the service of the military members we remember during the ceremony.  (Love you, dad!) 

If you and your family or friends think this is a great way to volunteer around the holidays, I would encourage you to sign up. 

Until next year, Merry Christmas, and best wishes for safe travels in 2022.