For many Americans, the first Monday of September marks the end of summer, the start of school and a much-anticipated day away from the office. It’s a designated time of rest and relaxation, filled with weekend road trips, neighborhood barbecues and countless shopping sales. Yet beyond these, Labor Day has a deeper significance and history, which when understood, can add a new dimension to our celebrations.
“Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country,” said Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor. “Labor Day … is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation.”
Instead, as the U.S. Department of Labor describes, Labor Day is a national tribute to the contributions American workers have made to the “strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Dedicated to the social and economic achievements of hard-working Americans, it’s a time to celebrate our nation and all of the ways our hard work and that of our loved ones has shaped the country into what it is today.
The first Labor Day was celebrated in New York in 1882, when select union leaders called for a parade to be held in recognition of the labor movement and those it served. Soon afterward, the practice of holding annual festivals to honor workers was adopted in several other states as well, and it became an official federal holiday in 1894.
Many cities continue to hold parades in observance of the holiday, and these are a fun and simple way to recognize Labor Day’s roots — but they are far from being the only way to give tribute to our nation’s workers.
In fact, one of the easiest things we can do to observe the holiday is to simply take time to be grateful for our own current working conditions. While many of the challenges workers faced when Labor Day originated are still being overcome today, there’s no debate that our circumstances have improved tremendously over the years. From regulated work hours to increased wages, we’re now better equipped than ever before to serve one another and our world through our work, and to find balance and rest through it all.
So, as we take time this Labor Day to relax with family and friends and soak in the last of summer, let us remember the holiday’s origins and its continued impact on our lives, that we might cultivate a deeper sense of gratitude for the work that makes our nation what it is, and to recognize how our own work — however insignificant it may feel at times — truly contributes to the prosperity and well-being of our country.
How do you celebrate Labor Day?
Images via Library of Congress