This year, Labor Day falls on Monday, September 7! Unlike many holidays, Labor Day doesn’t have many rituals associated with it, other than end-of-summer barbecues. So what is Labor Day and why do we celebrate it?
What Is Labor Day and Why Do We Celebrate It?
Always held on the first Monday in September, Labor Day is a U.S. national holiday. For many people, it’s a symbolic end of summer and start of the school year, celebrated with barbecuing and shopping.
However, it was envisioned by founders as a celebration of the American worker and the great American work ethic. It was a creation of the labor movement in the late 1800s. The first Labor Day celebrations were parades to show the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by festivals designed for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. Speeches by prominent union officials, industrialists, educators, clerics, and government officials were among the day’s highlights.
In the U.S., the first Labor Day parade was on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City. By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law making the first Monday in September a legal national holiday every year.
Labor Day was all about the great American worker, the driving engine behind the most productive economy in the world, and the American work ethic that resulted in one of the highest standards of living in the world. All of this came out of a belief in economic and political democracy. Of course, Labor Day not only celebrated the American workers but also protected their quality of life, addressing the problems of the day—from long working hours to lack of time off.
Who “Invented” Labor Day?
Labor Day was the idea of Peter J. Maguire (although recent research has shown that it might have been his brother Matthew’s idea), a labor union leader who, in 1882, proposed a celebration honoring the American worker. Peter Maguire was the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. The date chosen was simply “convenient.” Peter Maguire suggested that this date would nicely fall “nearly midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.”
Recent research indicates that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882, while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What we do know is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and made it happen!
When Is Labor Day?
|2020||Monday, September 7|
|2021||Monday, September 6|
|2022||Monday, September 5|
|2023||Monday, September 4|
How to Celebrate Labor Day Today
Although the day’s focus on organized labor has diminished over the years, the holiday has become the last hurrah of summer—with a barbecue and day off work for many Americans.
And even though the American work force has changed dramatically since the industrial revolution, many Americans still work more hours and take less vacation than our western counterparts. We are constantly connected to our jobs with little respite; we all desire a good standard of living.
So, whether you work on a farm, at a plant, in an office or at a home business, we hope that you will take this day of honor, find some work/life balance, and reflect on your good work. After all, at work is where and how we spend the majority of our time!
Also, take a moment to reflect on this history and the many American workers who came before us—to build our railways, roads, infrastructure, and more. Then go to a picnic or barbecue as our ancestral workers did so many years ago!
Labor Day Recipes
Ready for an outdoor barbecue and time with family or friends? We’ve got some great recipe ideas below, courtesy of the Almanac cookbooks!
- Super Summer Burger
- Maple Baked Beans
- Summer Salsa Salad (See our Salsa Recipes collection for more inspiration.)
- Spicy Grilled Beef and Black Bean Salsa
- Country-Style Root Beer Glazed Ribs
- Watermelon Cucumber Salad
- Best Brownies
- Cherry Pie
Did you observe Labor Day? We would enjoy your feedback in the comments below.