Christmas season brings a special cheer each year to more than 100 unemployed people in the Appalachian foothills of Jackson County - a warm, happy feeling that comes from receiving a long-awaited paycheck.

The small army of jobless workers descends on the Christmas Ridge Handcrafts factory near the community of Tyner every year in late October. They man an assembly line until mid-December, making thousands of natural pine and fir wreaths for shipment across the country."It gives them an opportunity to buy things at Christmas for their children and grandchildren that they might not otherwise have," says Carol Parrett, quality control chief at the factory, operated by the non-profit Christian Appalachian Project.

Unemployment in the southeastern Kentucky county has hovered well above the 10 percent mark for most of 1988, peaking at 18.5 percent in February.

Parrett says most workers in the wreath factory are women, many of whose husbands and sons must travel 40 to 80 miles out of the mountains to find work in larger towns.

Bernie Hale, marketing director for the factory, says Christmas Ridge Handcrafts plans this year to produce about 65,000 wreaths that sell at between $13 and $30.

Parrett says the wreath factory began more than 20 years ago, when about 10 women put together the decorations in an unheated tobacco barn a local farmer allowed them to use. Output and employment has grown steadily each year since then.

Production of the wreaths begins with bending wire, about the same gauge as used in thick clothes hangers, into 10-inch hoops. After wire clasps are spot-welded onto the hoops, workers attach ample helpings of fir or pine, and the thick green wreaths begin to take shape.

The unfinished wreaths then are placed on tobacco sticks in a storeroom until another crew places bows, pine cones and artificial cranberries on them and slides the completed products into shipping boxes.