It's Labor Day, So Why Aren't We Laboring?

When you think about it, isn’t a bit odd that we celebrate Labor Day by NOT laboring?

After all, we don’t avoid celebrating birthdays on the anniversary of our birth, for example (unless you’re old and cranky like me). And we don’t refuse to give thanks on Thanksgiving or not honor the presidents on President’s Day (unless we’re purchasing a vehicle on what seems to be a major traditional sales weekend for car and truck sales but even then, we’re using money and that has presidents on it, right?)

I think you get my point: It seems more appropriate to spend Labor Day really enjoying being at work, feeling grateful we have a job, and thinking about how important what we do is to the rest of society (or, at the very least, how much we enjoy getting a paycheck for it).

Curious about why we don’t, I decided to research the history of Labor Day, which took me to the U.S. Department of Labor website. Here’s what I learned:

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

Although I have been working for pay since the age of 13, I’m not so sure I’ve made much of a contribution to America’s wellbeing. However, it’s certainly helped mine. But back to this work holiday.

According to the Labor Department’s website, no one’s even certain who first proposed it as a holiday but we do know the first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union, which appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and a picnic.

Now, picnics can be a lot of work, too, and in my experience this is especially true for women because the men I know say “yes, let’s have a picnic” but never do anything to get the food or plan it. Apparently this was not factored into the Central Labor Union’s discussion. But I digress.

By 1885, the idea of a “workingmen’s holiday” had spread and states began adopting bills to make it official. In 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and territories.

Although the first Labor Day proposal called for “a street parade to exhibit to the public ‘the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations’ of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families,” the celebration now seems to center on speeches by union officials and other folks -- or backyard parties where our “esprit de corps” involves food and drink as we enjoy the last gasp of summer.

Well, since someone has to prepare for those events, I guess you could say there is still some laboring going on. Personally, I think it takes a whole lot less effort to go to my job than host a huge party for other people who want to celebrate that they’re not at work. So this year, I’m planning a “workingwoman’s holiday” from both! Anything else sounds like too much work . . .

 

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