The tradition of laying a wreath on a veteran’s grave during the holiday season began 30 years ago at one cemetery. And for the first time this year, the annual Wreaths Across America event arrives in Orange Park at Magnolia Cemetery.
National Wreaths Across America Day is Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022. On that day, a balsam wreath adorned with a red bow will be placed on the graves of veterans around the country, at sea, and in other parts of the world.
Sandra DiGiovanni is a member of the Magnolia Cemetery Board of Trustees. She says more than 160 graves have been identified thus far, but they don’t want to leave anyone out.
“We are in the process of identifying all veteran grave sites in the cemetery. If you have a veteran family member at Magnolia Cemetery that is not identified on the headstone or marker, please contact us,” said DiGiovanni. Get in touch with DiGiovanni or Town Clerk Courtney Russo.
There are 2,000 plots in Magnolia Cemetery, and about 1,200 are in use. She says she’s unsure how many more graves need to be identified, but completing the count is essential. “I don’t want to overlook the veterans in our community. We’re a very strong military town, and this is another way to honor them.”
In addition, DiGiovanni says they’re looking for donations to purchase the wreaths. “We’re not looking for large donations,” said DiGiovanni. At least one Orange Park business has already extended a helping hand. Businesses, as well as individuals, are welcome to donate. You can contribute to the local ceremony on the Wreaths Across America website here.
Moosehaven will also participate this year, but it’s unclear how many veterans are buried there.
Wreaths Across America was born from a memorable experience of a 12-year-old boy. Morrill Worcester, the owner of the Worcester Wreath Company, visited Arlington National Cemetery at that age. Later in life, he found himself with extra balsam wreaths at his business one holiday season. He thought about his childhood experience and decided to put the wreaths on graves in Arlington National Cemetery.
However, it wasn’t until 2005 that the annual event gained traction, 13 years after it was first started. That was when a photo of the wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery went viral. After seeing the snow-covered pic, people across the country either wanted to help, have the same event in their area or just say thank you to the person who started it all.
Since then, the commemoration has grown into what it is today. Last year, more than 2,500 locations participated in the time-honored tradition.
In August, Orange Park residents will get an insert in their water bill reminding them of the event as well as the need to identify gravesites.