Ever wonder why we celebrate Labor Day? A good friend shared a comment from his grandchild when he was asked why we celebrate Labor Day. “We take this day off to celebrate all those who have worked hard,” he said. And just as quickly, the grandchild responded, “Then why don’t they call it ‘No Work Day’ or ‘No Labor Today Day’?” Children sometimes understand more than adults when challenged by things that do not make sense.
Labor Day was developed to celebrate the contributions of organized labor and workers for the prosperity of the American economy. It is traditionally observed on the first Monday in September and was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century. The first Labor Day celebration was held on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City. Five years later, Oregon was the first state to actually adopt a Labor Day law on February 21, 1887. It became a federal holiday in 1894. The original holiday was meant to handle the problems of long hours, difficult working conditions and very little time off.
In the 1990’s, I was hired by the Chicago AFL-CIO to help organize a parade in downtown Chicago to honor workers. That parade has not occurred for 20+ years. Today, Labor Day is no longer about trade unionists marching down the street waving banners and their tools of trade. The celebration today is a confused holiday with no real associated rituals. Labor Day was created to honor the American worker, but today it seems the meaning and purpose of the celebration has been long forgotten.
I am not sure we remember why we have this holiday other than taking some time off from work. For most Americans, Labor Day means the end of summer, the last hurrah before the start of school (for some schools), cook outs, a day to enjoy time with friends and family, yard work, fall sales, and the meteorological start to fall.
Do we still honor workers, the people who work on Labor Day so others can enjoy time off—police and fire staff, shopping mall employees, first responders, restaurant employees, park district and theme park staff, and a myriad of others who enjoy serving you, but are getting holiday pay because they not spending time with their families?
So as you go out for that last-minute item you forgot for the family picnic, please say, “Thank you,” to the workers who are serving you. Enjoy the holiday…and remember there are only 115 shopping days remaining until Christmas.