August 24, 2011

The Historic Significance of Labor Day

Labor Day is an unusual and interesting holiday. It is not associated with any particular religion, nor is it commemorative of any historical event.

It’s a traditional time for barbecues and cookouts, picnics and parades. The Monday following Labor Day used to mark the first day of public school (in Canada, the first day of school is the first weekday after Labor Day), and swimming pools usually close after Labor Day weekend.

Labor Day signifies the beginning of fall, even though that seasonal change does not actually occur until later in the month of September. And heaven forbid you wear white shoes or sandals after Labor Day.

But are all these traditional celebratory gestures reflective of Labor Day’s real meaning? What is that meaning, anyway? Why do we celebrate Labor Day?

On September 5, 1882, the first Labor Day in the US was officially observed in New York City. This was in deliberate contrast to socialist nations around the world that already celebrated Labor Day in May, and was intended as a conciliatory gesture between workers and management. It took place in the midst of the labor boom of the era, when industrialism was in its heyday.

There is some controversy as to what individual actually founded Labor Day, but we do know that the celebration was planned by the Central Labor Union. A parade marked the celebration of the first Labor Day, and Labor Day parades still take place on this holiday.

So how do people celebrate? Well, Labor Day was established, in part, for the families of workers to take some time off and enjoy the holiday together.

Why not follow this model and make Labor Day a family holiday?

Picnics are a great way to spend time together as a family, and they are also a traditional Labor Day event. Pack American fare like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chips, and spend the day playing games and enjoying the late summer weather.

Others like to have an outdoor cookout and invite friends as well as family. Regardless of who you invite, a cookout can be a lot of fun. You can decorate the outdoor table with patriotic centerpieces that guests can take home, or play horseshoes and give out prizes. You could even pay a game (with prizes!) where players find how many words can be spelled using the letters in “Labor Day Party” and other appropriate phrases.

However you celebrate, Labor Day is a time for food, fun, family, and relaxation. The working people in the 1800s did not always enjoy time off and regular work hours, so let’s be grateful that they spoke up and called for an eight-hour work day and a little time off.

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Alexis Rodrigo