The gift of flowers at a memorial site is a ritual that occurs around the world, understood in every culture. The floral tributes at funerals bespeak both the beauty and the brevity of life and evoke memories of other days. These type of memorials are made each day at Arlington National Cemetery, at the dozens of funeral services occurring there and in solitary communion with a departed loved one.
More formal ceremonies involve the laying of a wreath and the attendance of others at this ritual. These, too, are held frequently at Arlington. You may have the opportunity to observe such a ceremony during your visit. You might even be taking part in one.
The most solemn of these occur on state occasions where the president or his designee lays a wreath to mark the national observance of Memorial Day, Veterans Day or some other special occasion. As a general rule, these take place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, attended by ceremonial units from the uniformed services.
Also marked by a high degree of ritual and joint service participation are wreath layings that occur during state visits. A visiting head of state will pay formal respects to the sacrifice of America's veterans in foreign wars by placing a wreath before the Tomb. Similarly, other foreign ministers may also include a wreath laying here as part of their official itineraries.
In addition, wreath layings by various other public figures and organizations — at the Tomb or at the scores of other memorial locations throughout the cemetery — expands the number of ceremonies at Arlington significantly, although most are not marked with the same ceremonial pomp of the state events.
These might be annual observances by veterans groups whose unit has dedicated a tree and plaque along one of the lanes that wind through the cemetery or an organization like No Greater Love, which has made certain that the victims of terrorist acts or other mass casualties are not forgotten. They can also be special events, such as at the dedication of a marker or the centennial or other major anniversary of a battle. And they might take place at such locations as the John F. Kennedy gravesite, the Confederate Memorial, or the Memorial Amphitheater.