Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a federal holiday originally created to honor the working class. Over time the Labor Day weekend, which falls midway between the fourth of July and Thanksgiving has expanded to a wider celebratory context that all Americans look forward to with joyful anticipation.
The meaning of Labor Day now encompasses the signaling of the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. Celebrations abound in the form of picnics, barbecues, pool parties, getaway weekend travel, visits to amusement parks and other entertainment venues.
It is also one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Long ago when Labor Day still retained its original meaning, as a day to respect and honor the working sector, all businesses would be closed. Today, Labor Day sales are a deal not to be overlooked, and back to school shopping is carried out with a frenzy. Early Christmas shoppers also fill up the stores, searching for the best Labor Day bargains and specials.
The very first Labor Day occurred on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 in New York City. Most historians credit the idea of signifying a day to show respect for the American worker to Peter McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. Others claim the idea was the brainchild of Matthew Maguire, secretary of the International Union of Machinists local union 344 in Patterson, New Jersey.
In any event, Congress made Labor Day an official holiday in 1894 and designated it to fall on the first Monday in September.
Even before that date, many states copied New York and instituted their own version of the holiday. To this day, celebrations boast varying styles and traditions particular to each state or region.
Labor Day is not unique to the United States. European countries, China, Canada and other parts of the world all have their own celebrations of workers and labor unions. The day may fall at a different time in the calendar year and be memorialized in a different manner, but the sentiment is the same; an opportunity to honor the working class, which is the backbone of every thriving nation.
Over the years, other traditions around Labor Day have evolved. In 1966, the comedian and actor, Jerry Lewis, created a telethon to raise money and awareness for Muscular Dystrophy. This telethon was broadcast over the Labor Day weekend and encouraged businesses, corporations and individuals to give generously in order to find a cure for debilitating muscular diseases. Celebrities jumped on board and contributed their talents in the form of entertainment and the successful result was progressive medical inroads toward helping the victims of MD. The telethon continues to this day, though more low key, and millions are donated each Labor Day weekend by corporate giants and the private sector.
Labor Day has always been the indicator for breaking out the Fall wardrobe. In years past, when fashion rules were more strictly enforced, it was unheard of for white shoes, purses and pastel clothing to be worn after Labor Day. Some continue to adhere to that tradition today.
Despite all the frivolous activity and traditions which are connected with the holiday, Labor Day continues to represent deep respect for American workers and their contributions to the economic strength and productive vitality of our nation.