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Labor Day falls on Monday, September 5. Find out why we Americans honor the value of labor. Plus, learn which President started Labor Day, why the U.S. celebrates in September, and where that old-time rule about not wearing white after Labor Day came from.
When Is Labor Day?
Labor Day is always celebrated annually on the first Monday in September. Labor Day is a federal holiday in the United States.
Labor Day Dates
Monday, September 5
Monday, September 4
Monday, September 2
Monday, September 1
What Is Labor Day About?
The funny thing about Labor Day is that it’s the one day of the year no one expects to work! We celebrate work by not doing any. But it replicates our week. We labor, and then we rest. On Labor Day, we honor the value of labor by putting it out of our thoughts for an extra-long weekend.
Work is an activity we esteem most when we’re not doing it. In a period of unemployment, for example, work seems like the grandest and most longed-for opportunity of all. Work is therefore a blessed endeavor. Whether it’s baking a casserole or doing laundry; serving customers or compiling a report; teaching a class or making a hospital bed: Our daily labors earn our daily bread and more.
Labor Day is to celebrate you, the American worker! It was envisioned by the founders to honor the 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. Back in the late 1800s, the Labor movement was created to address some of the serious problems of the day including long working hours and 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!
Which President Started Labor Day?
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.
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.
How to Celebrate Labor Day Today
Even though the American workforce 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.
Take this day of honor to reflect on all your hard work and, if you can make it happen, take a break to relax because you deserve this national day of leisure. 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.
If you can, attend a Labor Day parade. Or, enjoy a picnic or barbecue as our ancestral workers did so many years ago—and enjoy the last hurrah of summer!
Image: Summer Salsa Salad. Photo by vm2002.
Labor Day Recipes
BBQ, outdoor cooking, and picnics are traditional on Labor Day. Relax outside and don’t spend too much time in the kitchen. We’ve got some delicious recipe ideas below, courtesy of the Almanac cookbooks!
Now let’s get to that common question. Why is there an old-time rule about not wearing white after Labor Day? And does it still apply?
One theory about wearing white is simply that it’s cooler in an age before air conditioning; white reflects the sun instead of absorbing it. Another theory is that the end of summer meant a return to the city and work life, as many people used to take the month of August to visit the seashore. Returning to city life (often dirty) meant that dark clothes returned and the whites weren’t practical.
Of course, this idea of “summering” was more for the wealthy who could leave the city in the days of no air conditioning to escape to the seashore or mountains. So, wearing white was for those who could afford to stay clean and travel.
Today, there really aren’t such rules about white. We have air conditioning, we have lighter fabrics, and clothing has generally become more casual and comfortable versus the more formal suits and work clothes of the past decades.
Still, some of us naturally change our color themes as autumn begins, just as the flowers and trees do. Consider the jewel colors of fall mums as well as the autumn foliage! What do you do?