Labor Day in the United States is a holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It is a celebration of the American labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.
The modern holiday is widely traced back to an organized parade in New York City in 1882. Union leaders had called for what they had labelled a “monster labor festival” on Tuesday, Sept. 5, according to Linda Stinson, a former historian for the Department of Labor (the idea for a general labor festival may have originated in Canada, which today also celebrates “Labour Day” on the first Monday in September). Initially that morning, few people showed up, and organizers worried that workers had been reluctant to surrender a day’s pay to join the rally. But soon the crowds began flowing in from across the city, and by the end of the day some 10,000 people had marched in the parade and joined festivities afterward in what the press dubbed “a day of the people.”
When did it become an official holiday?
The practice of holding annual festivities to celebrate workers spread across the country, but Labor Day didn’t become a national holiday for more than a decade. Oregon became the first state to declare it a holiday in 1887, and states like New York, Massachusetts and Colorado soon followed suit. Under President Grover Cleveland, and amid growing awareness of the labor movement, the first Monday in September became a national holiday in 1896.
Why is it on the first Monday in September anyway?
Labor union leaders had pushed for a September date for the New York demonstration, which coincided with a conference in the city of the Knights of Labor, one of the largest and most influential of the unions. The first two New York City Labor Days took place on the 5th of September, but in 1884, the third annual New York City Labor Day holiday was scheduled for the first Monday in September, and that date stuck.
We have Monday off, but does the labor community still actually celebrate the holiday?
Yes. To this day there is still a major parade in New York City (and other cities across the country, large and small). It’s true that union membership has been declining for years, but many of the challenges that faced workers more than a century ago are still being overcome today, whether by the growing movement for higher wages in the fast food industry or by overworked tech and finance employees calling for better hours.
To take advantage of large numbers of potential customers free to shop, Labor Day has become an important sale weekend for many retailers in the United States. Some retailers claim it is one of the largest sale dates of the year, second only to the Christmas season’s Black Friday.
In high society, Labor Day is (or was) considered the last day of the year when it is fashionable to wear white or seersucker.
Labor Day marks the beginning of the NFL and college football seasons. NCAA teams usually play their first games the weekend of Labor Day, with the NFL traditionally playing their first game the Thursday following Labor Day.
Many school districts resume classes around the Labor Day holiday weekend. Most begin the week before, making Labor Day weekend the first three-day weekend of the school calendar, while others return the Tuesday following Labor Day, allowing families one final get away before the school year begins. Many districts across the Midwest are opting to begin school after Labor Day.