Christmas Wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery

Tomorrow will mark the annual laying of Christmas wreaths at Arlington National CemeteryArlington  has many traditions.  The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Changing of the Guard, caskets carried by horse and caisson, the Flags In ceremony on Memorial Day weekend and now Christmas wreaths.

Started in 1992 by Morrill Worcester of Worcester Wreaths because he had a surplus of greenery, the Christmas wreaths have become an important part of Arlington’s lore.  Mr. Worcester had visited Arlington as a young boy and it had left an indelible impression – he wanted to do something.

He sought help from Maine Senator Olympia Snowe and arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery, a section which received fewer visitors with each passing year.

As plans got underway, other equally interested people stepped forward.  James Prout, owner of Blue Bird Ranch Trucking provided trucks and drivers. Volunteers from the local American Legion and VFW Posts and other community members gathered to decorate each wreath with their signature red, hand-tied bows.

Mr. Worcester returned to Arlington each year, toiling in relative obscurity.  That all changed in 2005 when a picture of the snow covered graves, adorned by a Christmas wreath and a line of poetry:

“Rest easy, sleep well my brothers. Know the line has held, your job is done.  Rest easy, sleep well . . .”

was circulated on the Internet.  Requests poured in from around the country from individuals and groups who wanted to create a similar tradition at their own national and state cemeteries.

Challenged to donate thousands of wreaths to each state, Mr. Worcester came up with the idea of sending seven wreaths – one for each branch of the military as well as one representing those still listed as POW or MIA.  The requests grew each year and in 2007 the family created the non-profit groups Wreaths Across America to promote the remembrance of veterans.

As Mr. Worcester noted, “It provides the inspiration for all of us to renew our commitment to honor the men and women of the armed forces who have served, and those who are currently serving our country.”

With a mission of Remember, Honor and Teach, the project has grown to include wreath laying ceremonies in every state, Puerto Rico and in 24 overseas cemeteries.  Over 100,000 wreaths have been placed, over 60,000 volunteers have participated.

Tomorrow, at 8:00am, I will gather along with hundreds of other volunteers at the McMullen Arch in Arlington National Cemetery to honor our veterans.  Won’t you join me?


picture of Mr. Worcester courtesy of Gregory Rec, Portland Press Herald