Labor Day means many things to us. For most, it means a day off from work. For many, it means the unofficial end of summer and the beginning of fall. For some, it means a chance to get away for a long weekend.
However, Labor Day is one of those holidays that you reap the benefits from but that many people don't actually know the true significance of. The commercialization of many holidays, including Labor Day, also hasn't helped with that.
So in case you're wondering, Labor Day actually has a long historical tradition about the workers that built this nation. Read on to find out what this holiday is all about so that when you're sipping Mai Tais on the beach, you know why you're able to do so.
What is Labor Day?
Labor Day is a United States federal holiday that takes place on the first Monday in September every year. In 2014, the holiday falls on Sept. 1. It's a day dedicated to celebrating the efforts of workers, past and present, that have helped provide the social, political and economic backbone of this country.
How did it start?
Labor Day was borne out of the U.S. labor movement toward the end of the 19th century when workers sought better working conditions, fairer wages and union representation. There is some debate over who is the true founder of the holiday. For much of history, Peter McGuire, the founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, was credited as the founder of Labor Day. Sources say that McGuire stood in front of the New York Central Labor Union on May 12, 1882 to declare that a day be set aside to celebrate the nation's workforce.
However, recent research from the New Jersey Historical Society questions McGuire's role in the holiday's creation. The organization found a column in the New Jersey-based newspaper the Morning Call that referred to Matthew Maguire, a Central Labor Union of New York leader, as the "Father of the Labor Day holiday." Some believe that McGuire received credit for the founding of Labor Day because Maguire's views were too radical.
At any rate, the first Labor Day holiday was signed into law in Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Oregon in 1887. The ordinance passed in many of the other states through the years, and on June 28, 1894, Congress declared the first Monday in September as Labor Day.
Why is Labor Day in September?
Although you probably think Labor Day is in September to liven up a not-so-festive time of the year, the month was actually chosen because a Knights of Labor conference was being held in New York on Sept. 5, 1882, the date of the first Labor Day celebration. Though the Central Labor Union held the event on that date the next year, by 1884, the group decided to celebrate the holiday on the first Monday in September.
Labor Day was almost moved to May 1. The idea started when the American Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions sought a universal eight-hour workday by May 1, 1886. However, the law failed to pass in time, which caused a general strike and the Haymarket Riot in Chicago. As President Grover Cleveland got ready to sign the holiday into law in 1894, he worried that people would forever associate the May 1 date with the Haymarket Riot, which could encourage violence. So he decreed the first Monday in September as Labor Day, as many states had already done.
Why aren't you supposed to wear white after Labor Day?
Everyone knows that one of the rules of fashion is that once Labor Day comes and goes, it's time to pack away those white jeans until summer comes again. Where did this seemingly arbitrary rule come from?
White clothing has long been seen as a way to stay cool in the summer months. Some say it was the uniform of escaped urbanites during the warmer months, so when you returned to the city upon summer's end, you would get back to your regular routine of wearing darker clothing. As the middle class expanded in the 1950s, the "no white after Labor Day" rule became a way those of old money and some smart social climbers could distinguish who really belonged in the upper eschelons of society.
These days, the rule doesn't carry as much clout as it once did, but even if you choose to wear a white dress in the middle of February, you still know you're not supposed to be doing it.
Do other countries celebrate Labor Day?
The U.S. isn't the only country to set aside a day to celebrate workers. Labour Day is also celebrated on the first Monday in September in Canada. Australians celebrate Labour Day in March or October, depending on what territory they live in. Labor Day is celebrated on the first Friday of June in the Bahamas. Most countries around the world celebrate International Workers' Day, or May Day, on May 1.
What does Labor Day mean to us today?
No, Labor Day isn't just a poorly reviewed movie starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin these days. There's still plenty of labor issues at play. In addition to concerns over unemployment rates, the gender wage gap and a livable minimum wage have been hot topics in recent years. But observing Labor Day every year hasn't really seemed to affect very much.
What can you do this Labor Day?
If you're not planning on using your day off to go away for the weekend or throw a barbecue, there's plenty for you to do not too far from home. You can probably find a Labor Day sale at your favorite store or car dealership. There's also some "major" TV events happening this year, such as the Lifetime Original Movie "The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story," History's mini-series "Houdini" and a ton of marathons of your favorite movies and TV shows. Go ahead and binge-watch. You deserve it.