Labor Day weekend is not only the last unofficial weekend of summer, but also an important national holiday. Labor Day is a time to celebrate and honor our country’s labor force. These are the workers who have built this nation and continue to provide its strong foundation. In this post, we celebrate them, the meaning of this day and how to enjoy time with family and friends.
In the late 19th century, union organizers and labor activists began to conceive of Labor Day. It was to be the first Monday of September and set aside to celebrate the achievements of workers in America.
This started as a grassroots movement at the state and local level. Several cities got the ball rolling in the 1880s, planning special “Honor Workers” days and word quickly spread around the country.
Some historians believe that Peter J. McGuire, of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and American Federation of Labor, first suggested the idea in 1882. He thought America should have a “general holiday for the laboring classes.” McGuire wanted to dedicate such a holiday to those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”
However, this isn’t the view of all historians. Others believe Matthew Maguire, a laborer himself, came up with the idea first. Maguire did this, they believe, while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.
Regardless of who came up with the idea, Oregon passed the first law.
They recognized Labor Day as an official holiday on February 21, 1887. That same year, four more states followed suit: Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
It took only six years for Connecticut, Nebraska and Pennsylvania to do the same. The following year, 23 more states adopted the holiday and Congress made it an official, federal holiday on June 28, 1894.
That following September was the first national celebration of Labor Day.
It’s worth noting that after President Cleveland signed the declaration making Labor Day a federal holiday, a Paterson, New Jersey editorial stated, “the souvenir pen should go to Alderman Matthew Maguire of this city, who is the undisputed author of Labor Day as a holiday.”
At that year’s inaugural parade in New York City, both Maguire and McGuire attended.
Did you know?
The movement for an official Labor Day intensified after 13 workers were killed during the Pullman Strike in June 1894.
The Pullman Palace Car Company had cut wages for factory workers. This was during an already major economic depression so starving workers joined the railway union, led by Eugene Debs, to promote a boycott of Pullman railway cars.
President Grover Cleveland sent in the United States Marshals and some Army troops who killed 13 workers and wounded another 57 in the process.
How Labor Day has been celebrated throughout the years
The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated in New York City. This was before it became a federal holiday. In 1882, the Central Labor Union planned and hosted a parade. After that, many cities around the country held similar parades and parties.
Organizers worked to make this an official holiday. They suggested people gather for parades in every town. People celebrated the spirit of trade and labor organizations. Activists also wanted workers to enjoy a day off with pay. They wanted a holiday dedicated to rest, relaxation and fun for laborers and their families.
In the early 1900s, parades and parties started to include speeches from relevant citizens and politicians. These speeches tended to draw upon the economic and civic significance of Labor Day.
Activists for a time included the Sunday before Labor Day in celebrations. They typically talked about the spiritual and educational aspects of a strong labor movement during those two-day commemorations.
Labor Day has also been a time to spread awareness. The nation’s standard of living went up along with production thanks to the labor movement in the 1880s and 1900s. This created a thriving middle class and contributed to the hopes of economic and political democracy.
This is what we celebrate on Labor Day every year. The reason for our country’s strength, freedom, and leadership – the American worker.
Ways to celebrate today
For many, this is also the last weekend of the summer. Pretty soon, families will be taking fall decorations and sweaters out of storage. They will shop for fall-flavored treats and drinks. But first, let’s savor some time outside with loved ones. Enjoy a warm breeze or some favorite summer food before it’s gone for another year.
Picnics, barbecues, pool parties: Anything you can do outside with friends or family is a great way to celebrate Labor Day. Include traditional summertime food that you haven’t had a chance yet to eat. Dishes such as potato salad, grilled burgers, corn on the cob and watermelon. Don’t forget to wash it down with some lemonade or iced tea!
Movie night: Gather the family together to watch a great movie about American workers. Classics like Grapes of Wrath and Norma Rae still hold up. Depending on how old your children are, movies like Hidden Figures and 9 to 5 are also good options.
Gratitude: Write thank you cards to essential workers in your neighborhood or family. Show them you appreciate their sacrifice and hard work.
Parades: Search online for “Labor Day parades near me” to find some fun celebrations in your town or city.
Local festivals: Many town squares have some interesting choices for this upcoming long weekend. Check out your newspapers or area websites. Look for festivals featuring food, art, music or all of the above.
Union-friendly event: Many local unions or labor organizers plan breakfasts or lunches outside for Labor Day. They typically include speeches and some history on strides made in your area from those who’ve built it.
No matter how you celebrate, everyone here at KidzToPros wishes you and your family a safe and happy Labor Day weekend.