National Wreaths Across America Day Ceremony
A widow of a combat sergeant, I wanted to learn firsthand about the winter ceremony of laying wreaths on veterans’ graves. Internet news and a Stars and Stripes article reported that a group protested the tradition, objecting that it was a Christian Christmas ritual. The origin of the National Wreaths Across American Day Ceremony began in 1992 when a Maine wreath-making business donated leftover stock to Arlington National Cemetery. It then grew to a coordinated effort across the country, with millions of Americans today participating at more than 2,700 locations. The theme is to Remember, Honor, and Teach.
Saturday with a small group, I bore the windy cold on the hilltop of a small cemetery. Peggy Monroe, coordinator, led us with an offered script for participants. Admittedly, a prayer led by a minister (I recall there are no atheists in foxholes). The patriotic ceremony, honor guard, and taps player did not promote a religion or denomination, but instead celebrated the mission to remember the fallen, honor all who have served as well as their families, and encourage all to teach future generations the value of freedom.
The protesters in our country should read the optional script from the National Wreaths Across America Day Ceremony. Part of the opening remark stated, “We are all people, from many walks of life. The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price. Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear. We can worship as we see fit. We can raise our children to believe as we do. We are free to vote for the leaders of our choosing. And, we have the right to succeed, and we have the right to fail at whatever endeavor we wish to pursue.”
Throughout history, wreaths have been laced with symbolism from various cultures, including paganism, and often denote the spiritual belief in life everlasting and the rebirth of the spirit. A wreath for this ceremony symbolizes a circle of love for our country and those in the military. Walking to the grave of a service person unknown to me, I thought of my Armed Forces relations and laid not a Christmas wreath but a Veteran’s wreath in gratitude. The closing remarks solidified that truth: “Remember, we are not here today to ‘decorate graves.’ We are here to remember not their death but their lives. Each wreath is a gift of appreciation from a grateful America. These live balsam fir wreaths symbolize our honor to those who have served and are serving the Armed Forces of our great nation and to their families who endure sacrifices every day on our behalf. To our children, we want you to understand that the freedoms you enjoy today have been free but have come with a cost that someday, you may have to pay yourself. As a nation standing together, we can defeat terrorism, hatred, and injustice. Thanks to our veterans, we have the freedom to do just that.”
The National Wreaths Across America Day Ceremony is memorable as I reflect on our liberties and freedom, including the right to protest, secured by veterans.