Labor Day is a national holiday in the United States, and this year we celebrate it on Monday, September 6th. Although the holiday marks the official end of summer in our minds and a final chance to indulge in summer fun and sun activities, the day has historical significance and great importance.
In the late 1880s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the typical US citizen worked an average of 12-hour days seven days a week to secure a basic living. Often children as young as six toiled in mills, factories, and mines—usually earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages.
As manufacturing continued to replace agriculture as the mainstay of employment in the country, labor unions grew more prominent and vocal. They organized strikes and rallies to protest poor working conditions and inadequate pay.
The idea of a “workingman’s holiday” began to take shape in industrial centers across the nation, with states eventually passing legislation to recognize the day as an official workers’ day off.
After Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday, President Grover Cleveland officially signed the holiday into law in 1894. As proposed, Labor Day celebrations were highlighted by parades and speeches by prominent politicians sympathetic to the cause of organized labor and to show the strength and spirit of labor organizations.
A festival for the recreation and amusement of workers and their families usually followed the parades and became the celebratory formula for the observance of Labor Day.
Similarly, Labour Day is celebrated by our Canadian friends also on the first Monday of September, and its origins follow a comparable pattern as an original occasion to campaign for and celebrate workers’ rights with the accompanying parades and picnics organized by trade unions. It became a national holiday in Canada in 1894 as well.
Today, both citizens in the US and in Canada view Labor Day and Labour Day as the final celebrations of summer with backyard gatherings of friends and family and the last opportunity for vacations before the kids return to school and everyone prepares for the more orderly life of the approaching fall and winter seasons.
My hope, even in these trying times of a global pandemic, is that you were able to eke out a bit of frivolous summer fun in these past few months and that you have a safe and happy transition to the “normalcy” of fall and the approaching winter.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!
Thanks, Jim, for your thoughtful reflection on the significance of Labor Day and the waning days of summer. With all the wildfires in America and Canada this summer, never thought we’d all be yearning for cooler temperatures and rain or snow.