Happy Labor Day!
No, it’s not Memorial Day. That’s in May.
Oh, you’re scratching your head wondering what this holiday is about, too? That’s funny, so was I until recent years. Even now I have to remind myself that it’s about more than the last three-day weekend we get before the busy fall schedule is in full swing. Nowadays, Labor Day is generally marked by:
- BBQ’s and family time.
- Sales at your favorite shopping centers.
- Symbolically the last day of summer.
- The last day wearing white shoes is fashionably acceptable. (This trend has, in recent years, started to disappear. Go ahead. Wear your white shoes tomorrow. It’ll be okay.)
- The beginning of the NFL and college football seasons.
- The first day back to school (although this has changed in many schools).
Oddly enough, Labor Day does have historical significance beyond these modern observances . . .
Labor Day was celebrated for years before it was made a national holiday in various places around the US, starting with Union Square in New York in 1882. There are arguments about who actually came up with the idea, but it either came out of the Central Labor Union of New York, or the American Federation of Labor. Either way – it came from the labor union folks. Oregon was the very first state to recognize the holiday in 1887, which then sparked a trend catching on in other cities and states nation-wide. It seemed everyone thought it was a good idea to take a breather and recognize that hard work pays off. At least that’s my interpretation.
While different sources will give us different years as to when it historically made its official debut, the Department of Labor (DOL) records that on June 28, 1894, Congress officially passed the act making Labor Day a national holiday.
In the earlier 1900’s, Labor Day was celebrated with parades and speeches and fireworks and grandeur. The Sunday preceding Labor Day was even made into “Labor Sunday”, calling for spiritual and educational reflections on labor (of which there are many!).
According to the Department of Labor, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
Essentially, it’s a day that we can reflect on the development of the United States of America. From the genius minds of inventors to the financial risk-takers to the calloused worker’s hands, the American people have built this country into one of the most prosperous in history. As a nation of individuality and opportunity, we have worked hard — together — and risen above even the very oldest and most established nations on the planet. We are a highly motivated people who work hard and enjoy the fruit of our labor.
I’d say that’s worth a day of remembrance . . . and a day off!
This is how the DOL puts it: “The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”