The first Monday of September is Labor day, a holiday commonly understood to be celebrating workers. Many people get the day off of work and kids get a day off of school if they’ve already started the academic year. But what else is going on behind the scenes?
The first known instance of the celebration Labor Day was back in 1882 and, believe it or not, was actually celebrated on a Tuesday, September 5th. Historians debate different origins, but the most widely agreed upon is a record from the New Jersey Historical Society that gives credit to a labor union organizer named Matthew Maguire who was a key figure in the early American labor union movement. The first parade connected to the holiday took place on that same day in New York City, and drew in an estimated 10,000 workers, according to the US Census Bureau. It was sponsored by the city’s Central Labor Council, of which Peter McGuire, one of the union’s most notable figures, also claims credit in the founding of the holiday.
Labor Day was first officially encoded into law by the state of Oregon in 1887. Thirty states would follow suit until it was nationally recognized as a federal holiday by President Grover Cleveland in 1894. This federal law actually only gave holiday to federal workers, but this was spread throughout the culture as unions encouraged workers to strike to get the day off in the 1930s.
Culturally, Labor Day is generally viewed as an unofficial last day of summer, despite the season’s official ending period of September 23rd. Some states, such as Virginia and Minnesota, have laws that require the school year to begin after the holiday. Many fall sports seasons begin around Labor Day, especially football leagues, ranging all the way from junior leagues to high school to the NFL.
Labor Day is primarily celebrated is the U.S. and Canada, but many other countries across the globe have equivalent celebrations on other dates. Dozens of countries all over the world celebrate International Worker’s day, sometimes known as May Day due to its placement on May 1st. This tradition stems even further back to 1300s, where May 1st was home to an ancient European spring festival.
So while you might not be doing any labor on Labor Day, the holiday has been entrenched in our culture as the day celebrating the original ideals of the American Dream: hard work.