If anything besides lobsters puts Maine on the national map, it’s the holiday wreaths that go out to the rest of the country every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The fragrant whiff of balsam and the flash of evergreen and scarlet ribbon brighten the day for recipients, especially our summer visitors, who yearn for Maine all winter.
This year, the U.S. Senate has designated Saturday as “Wreaths Across America Day” in a resolution written by Maine’s Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. On Dec. 11, five tractor-trailers from Harrington are due to arrive at Arlington National Cemetery with wreaths to be laid at the grave sites of fallen soldiers.
Morrill and Karen Worcester, owners of the Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington, are supplying the wreaths for Arlington and more than 500 other veterans cemeteries in America and abroad. Their total number of wreaths this year is 213,000, of which the Worcesters are donating 100,000. Contributions from around the country pay for the rest.
A few big Maine companies ship many of the wreaths, among them the Worcester company and Whitney Originals. Those two are embroiled in their latest legal spat over design rights to a tabletop tree that has become popular. In addition, many individual Mainers take time off each year to “tip” the evergreen branches and make wreaths as a small seasonal business.
The wreath business accounts for a sizable part of Maine’s economy, but just how big is an open question. State Horticulturalist Ann Gibbs has no precise statistics, since the big companies guard their production figures for competitive reasons and since the little wreath makers are spread all over with no central organization. As for how many wreaths are made each year, all she can guess is “a gazillion.”
Doug Kell, whose Kellco firm employs 100 Mainers and ships wreaths from Milbridge, estimates that 10,000 Mainers make a total of a half-million wreaths each year.
At around $10 an hour, wreath-making labor is in short supply. Some companies rely on Mexican immigrants. Wreaths, too, sometimes run short, and supplies must be brought in from Canada. So much for the business side.
The emotional side is the pleasure that the smell and sight of Maine wreaths are spreading throughout the country.