What is Labor Day, and why do we celebrate it?
We all know that Labor Day is the first Monday in September. We know that it is a day dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It’s a national holiday to celebrate the workers continually and how they have contributed to the strength, prosperity, and overall well-being of our country.
Unlike most holidays in the U.S., Labor Day seems to have become a strange, confused holiday without rituals. For most people, it merely marks the last weekend of summer.
In the true spirit of the holiday and honor of all the hard workers out there here are twelve facts you might not know about Labor Day:
- What are we celebrating? The contributions and achievements of the 155 million men and women who are in the U.S. workforce.
- No one knows who invented the day. Both Peter McGuire, a carpenter, and Matthew McGuire, a machinist were credited with its creation. The founders were looking for two things: a means of unifying union workers and a reduction in work time.
- During the 19th century, Americans worked 12-hour days, sometimes seven days a week. (The Adamson Act was passed on September 3, 1916, establishing an 8-hour workday.)
- The first U.S. Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, planned by the Central Labor Union. The parade of about 10,000 workers took unpaid leave and marched from City Hall past Union Square uptown to 42nd street and ended in Wendel’s Elm Park at 92nd Street and 9th Avenue for a concert, speeches, and a picnic.
- Other countries have their own Labor Day – it’s called May Day. May Day takes place on; you guessed it – May 1. It was established to celebrate workers’ rights, just like Labor Day. The holiday also coincides with International Workers’ Day. Unions around the world use this holiday as an opportunity to protest and hold demonstrations. Upon occasion, some of these have turned violent.
- Canada celebrated Labor Day before the United States. The first Canadian Labor Day—instead, Labour Day—was in 1872, ten years before the Americans caught on. Printers in Toronto began lobbying their employers for a shorter workweek. Their employers did nothing, so they started a strike on March 25, 1872. On April 14, 2,000 workers marched in solidarity of the strikers; by the time they reached their destination, the group had grown to 10,000, one-tenth of the city’s population.
On June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.
- Oregon was the first to declare make an official holiday in 1887.
- Labor Day is considered the ‘unofficial NFL season kickoff.’ 99.44 percent of the time, the NFL plays its first official season game the Thursday after Labor Day.
- The first Waffle House opened on Labor Day. In 1955, in Avondale Estates, GA.
- The day is the unofficial end of hot dog season according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Americans Consume around 7 billion hot dogs.
- No wearing white after Labor Day! The idea comes from when the upper class would return from their summer vacations and stow away their lightweight, white summer clothes as they returned to school and work. Fashions have changed, and you can wear white if you want.
Have we forgotten the meaning of Labor Day?
Today Labor Day is no longer about trade unionists marching down the street with banners and their tools of the trade. Instead, it is a confused holiday with no associated rituals.
The original holiday was meant to handle the problem of long working hours and no time off. Although the battle over these issues would seem to have been won long ago, this issue is starting to come back with a vengeance, not for manufacturing workers but for white collar and tradesmen who have positions that require them tom always be connected to work and their clients.
If you work all the time and never really take a vacation, start a new ritual that honors the original spirit of the Day. Give yourself the day off. Don’t go to work. Shut off your phone, computer and other electronic devices connecting you to your daily grind. Then go to a barbecue, as the original participants did over a century ago, and celebrate having at least one day off from work during the year!