Throughout our nation, the first Monday of September is a holiday. The banks are closed, as well as government agencies. School is out, and the mail is not delivered. The only exception to the holiday is in the retail industry. There are many special Labor Day sales to encourage business.
A day originally connected with the labor movement. At the start of this holiday in the last part of the 19th century, the goal was to honor the workers of America. But it has taken on many different meanings through the years. For many it is seen as the “unofficial end” of summer, even though summer will not officially end until September 23 this year with the Autumn Equinox. It is not all bad that we end summer early for many of us started early with Memorial Day as opposed to the Summer Solstice which fell on June 21 this year.
Not too long ago, Labor Day meant for many the start of school. But today most schools have been in session weeks before Labor Day. It has come to mean the start of football season. Many colleges will start playing on Labor Day weekend and the first NFL game is just a few days away.
One tradition attached to Labor Day, for the fashion conscious, is to put away any thing that is linen or seersucker. And for the ladies, white is put away till Easter.
Have you ever wondered how we got to the first Monday of September? This is a holiday shared only with Canada. Most of the world observes Labor Day on May 1. In fact the very first Labor Day in the USA was on the first Tuesday of September in 1882 which fell on September 5. There was to be a parade in New York City. Tensions were high between those who planned the parade and authorities. The parade was about to be canceled as there was no band, thus no music for those who wanted to march. Then word got to the organizers that a group of about 200 jewelers with a band had arrived from Newark, New Jersey. The parade was on. Since it was not a holiday, many went back to work that day after the parade.
We might have ended up, with most of the world, with a May date, if it had not been for what happened in Chicago in 1886. A bombing occurred at a demonstration to change some labor practices. The big push was for the eight hour work day to become standard. In response to the bombing the police reacted. Seven of the police were killed that day.
It is reported that President Grover Cleveland wanted America’s observance of a day honoring its workers not to be seen as connected with the tragedy in Chicago. So in 1887 he called for the day to follow the precedent set in New York. He set aside the first Monday in September.
This use of a Monday allowed for one of our first “three day” weekends. We must have liked the idea because we have moved many of our holidays to a floating date system. Doing this allows us to have other three day weekends. Fourteen million American will travel by air this Labor Day, which is an increase of three percent over last year.
There is a lot to be liked about Labor Day. With time off, we can gather with family and friends for a cookout or picnic. There is one last long weekend for a quick getaway to the lake or beach. And it is one holiday that has no decorating to do, no cards to be sent, no gifts to be bought, or really very little traditions at all. There is plenty of time to catch a game on TV or go to the movies. It is really just a day off to relax and enjoy ourselves.
Its name, Labor Day reminds us of our interdependency on each other. We are indebted to many every day for their hard work which makes our lives possible. From the humblest of task to the most noble, we need each other and Labor Day is a good time to find ways to show our appreciation.
Though the idea for Labor Day came from the world of organized labor. The meaning and purpose for the holiday continues despite the labor movement itself not being as popular as before. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of workers belonging to a union has dropped to 11.1 percent. This is compared to 20 percent for the first year the Bureau made this report in 1983.
But whether the one’s we are dependent on for the basics of life are union or not, we still are indebted to them for their labors. Enjoy your Labor Day.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.