Would you like to honor military servicemembers this December? If you want to show your appreciation for our military and the sacrifices they’ve made to protect us, consider volunteering for Wreaths Across America, taking place on Saturday, December 16. For 2023, the theme is #ServeAndSucceed.
What Is Wreaths Across America?
Wreaths Across America is an annual event occurring every December on a Saturday. All over the country, Wreaths Across America volunteers head out to military cemeteries to lay large wreaths decorated with red ribbons on servicemembers’ graves.
However, some graves, such as Jewish graves marked with a Star of David, are not appropriate place to add the Christian symbol of a wreath. Out of respect for Jewish servicemembers buried there, volunteers are encouraged to instead say a short prayer that includes the servicemember’s name.
The History of Wreaths Across America
So how did Wreaths Across America get started? This event originated in Harrington, Maine, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
In 1992, the Worcester family, who owned a tree farm, had extra wreaths during the holiday season. Morrill Worcester, the family patriarch, asked a Maine politician for help and arranged to have the spare wreaths donated to the less-visited graves in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
Volunteers from the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and a truck company offered to help, and the first ceremony took place at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Arlington National Cemetery continued the tradition each year, but then the event went viral after someone shared a photo of the ceremony online in 2005.
People in other states wanted to know how they could start a similar tradition. Now, Wreaths Across America has grown into a massive event, extending across all 50 states and involving thousands of civilian and military volunteers, hundreds of participating locations, and a large number of companies.
What Do Wreaths Across America Volunteers Do?
Volunteering for Wreaths Across America is easy. At the Wreaths Across America website, you can locate a military cemetery near you and sign up to volunteer.
On the day of Wreaths Across America, you go to the military cemetery you’ve chosen at the designated time in the morning. For the wreath-laying ceremony, trucks will be waiting with boxes of wreaths.
Some volunteers hand out wreaths while others carry them out to place on the servicemembers’ graves in the cemetery. When the boxes are emptied, volunteers clean up and go home.
Pro Tips for This Event
This year’s Wreaths Across America will take place on Saturday, December 16. Since I’ve participated in this event since 2015, I have some pro tips for any interested volunteers:
- Be sure to sign up in advance and also bring a driver’s license or a similar government-issued ID with you. Some cemeteries located on or near military bases will require you to show your ID for security purposes.
- Check the weather in advance and dress appropriately. Hilly locations such as Arlington National Cemetery can get VERY cold in the morning due to freezing December winds. I generally bring chemical hand warmers to hand out to others who come to this event without gloves.
- Wear washable gloves. The wreaths smell wonderful, but I recommend handling them with gloves due to all the needles.
Wreath Donations Are Appreciated
If you can’t volunteer for Wreaths Across America on December 16, you can still get involved by sponsoring one or more wreaths. Designate which location you want to support to ensure your wreath gets to the location you want. The Wreaths Across America website also has apparel and other items for sale.
Remember, Honor and Teach: The Primary Purpose of Wreaths Across America
Wreaths Across America attracts a wide variety of people, such as current U.S. servicemembers, veterans, foreign servicemembers, members of the public and local service organizations. People come for various reasons: some want to honor family members or friends buried there, while others like me just want to show their appreciation for the military.
Although Wreaths Across America is a sober event, it’s interesting to chat with people from so many different walks of life and discover why they have chosen to remember and honor someone. It’s also a good chance to teach children and teens about the military and about history.
This December 16, please consider signing up to volunteer or to sponsor a wreath. Wreaths Across America is one of the most meaningful ways that you can honor our military.