As a nation, we honor veterans, their service, and their sacrifices throughout the year, but we also honor them during the holiday season. As we prepare for the holidays this week, we wanted to highlight some of the unique ways veterans and servicemembers are recognized during this time of year.
Wreaths Across America
Wreaths across America is the organization responsible for placing holiday wreaths on veterans’ graves in national cemeteries at over 1,100 locations across the United States. The organization’s mission statement is centered around three words: remember, honor, teach. With their holiday and year-round programs and events, they aim to remember our fallen U.S. servicemembers, honor those who served, and teach children the value of freedom. The organization encourages every volunteer to say the name of the veteran aloud as they are placing the wreath on the veteran’s grave as a way to recognize and thank them for their service to the country.
Wreaths Across America began when Morrill Worcester, the owner of Worcester Wreath Company, found himself with extra wreaths during the holiday season of 1992. He arranged to have them placed on graves in one of the older sections of Arlington National Cemetery. He wanted them placed in an area that didn’t get many visitors.With the coordination and help of others, he was able to ship the wreaths to DC where they were met by local veteran volunteers who tied red bows on each of them. They were able to place the wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery that first year, including a special wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.
The effort continued quietly for several years and in 2005, after a photograph of the wreaths went viral, they received national attention and thousands of people wanted to help. By 2007, Wreaths Across America was officially established as a non-profit organization, and the wreath-laying project continued to grow. December 13th is officially designated by the U.S. Congress as “Wreaths Across America Day.” Wreaths Across America hosts an annual pilgrimage from Maine (where Worcester Wreath Company originally began) to Arlington National Cemetery–which has now become the largest veterans’ parade. Wreaths Across America holds wreath laying events and ceremonies across the country every December.
If you are interested in learning more about Wreaths Across America, check out their website: http://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/#join-us
White House Christmas Trees
The White House Christmas decorations are known to be elaborate, reflecting the vision of the First Family. In 1961 First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. Over the course of President Obama’s tenure, there have been several Christmas trees in the White House dedicated to servicemembers, veterans, and the families.In 2011 First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden created Joining Forces, a White House Initiative to support the military and veteran community. That same year, the official White House Christmas tree, located in the Blue Room, celebrated the service of men and women in uniform. It featured holiday cards made by military children from military installations across the world, historic military photographs, and military items (medals, badges, and patches) from all service branches. The White House also had a gold star tree that paid tribute to the military members that gave their lives and their families. The tree was decorated by Gold Star Families with photos of fallen heroes and messages from their loved ones. In 2015, blue room Christmas tree was decorated with a red, white, and blue theme dedicated to military families. This year the Obama family has decorations in the East Garden room that pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of veterans and servicemembers. The White House Holiday Book describes these decorations: “An American flag display is formed from images of brave military members and their families, and Gold Star ornaments adorn the evergreen that honors the men and women who have laid down their lives for our country. Guests are invited to use the digital devices to send messages of thanks to those currently serving abroad and here at home.”
Here’s a behind-the-scenes video of the 2011 White House Holiday Decorations honoring servicemembers, veterans, and their families. The decoration process involved veterans and military spouses from all over the country!
National & Local Organizations
Non-profits, organizations, and Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) across the country make efforts to honor and give back to currently-serving military members, veterans, and their families. The USO has a wishbook, considered an alternative giving catalog, where anyone can buy gifts that directly support servicemembers deployed overseas this holiday season. Operation Homefront provides Holiday Meals for Military, and Trees for Troops brings free Christmas tress to military bases for military and veteran families. I have participated in local non-profits that decorate military and VA hospitals for the holidays, as well as programs that provide recovering wounded warriors plane tickets home for the holidays. There are Veteran adopt-a-family programs and organizations that send holiday packages to deployed servicemembers. National and local organizations find creative and thoughtful ways to honor our nation’s veterans during the holidays.
Mental Health and the Holidays
While the holidays are full of celebratory moments of connection and gathering, this time of year can also be difficult and dark for many people. It can be a time of loneliness, reflection, anxiety, and depression. For many veterans, it may be a painful reminder of the comrades, friends, and family they’ve lost. If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress or suicidal thoughts, please contact:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Veterans Crisis Line
1-800-273-8255, Press 1
or Text Message 838255