For most, Labor Day is thought of as a holiday in September for family cookouts, parades and college football. It is also seen and marking the end of summer. But the history of Labor Day in the U.S. is not well-known to most people.
Labor Day began in a time when the U.S. was competing fiercely with England and other European countries to increase manufacturing. It was meant to honor the men and women that labored every day to put their country on top of the world economically. Today, Labor Day’s official significance has somewhat disappeared, but it is still a treasured Monday off from work and school for many Americans.
The specifics about the beginning of Labor Day in the U.S. are not very clear. Some believe a machinist, while serving as secretary of a labor union, founded it in the 1880s. Others attribute it to another union worker, who borrowed the idea from Toronto’s Labor Festival. However the tradition started, in 1887 Oregon was the first state to officially declare Labor Day a holiday. The nation followed suit in 1894, declaring it a federal holiday. Today, all 50 states and D.C. celebrate this family tradition.
Labor Day has held much significance over the years. For a long time it marked the end of summer and the beginning of school—one last chance for families to take a vacation. Officially, it calls attention to the feats of American workers, the work that labor unions have done to honor and protect those feats, and the continued strength that America symbolizes.
Cities celebrate with parades, families with barbecues, and college football fans long for the Saturday before Labor Day: the historic beginning of the new season. The NFL fans are not left out, with the NFL playing its first game the Thursday after Labor Day. Even NASCAR plays a part, often holding races on or very close to Labor Day. Politicians, especially in election years, take this day as an opportunity to make speeches, rally supporters, and prepare for the last few months of tough political campaigning.
In the end, Labor Day is more about the laborer than the labor. Laborers get a day in which grandparents, parents, and siblings can gather to catch up on the summer’s adventures. Children get a day of fun with cousins and pick-up football games with the whole family. Family ties deepen and memories are formed. The great American laborer gets a day to himself to focus on what matters most: family and friends.
Learn more about what Labor Day meant to your family by asking your parents and grandparents!
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