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Labor Day - Why and How We Celebrate

Balancing Work and Life


nds holding American flag
Brand New Images/Digital Vision/Getty Images

In America, Labor Day is celebrated the first Monday of each September. Because Labor Day creates a three-day weekend and is the last major holiday before the onset of autumn, it's generally seen as the last chance to enjoy the summer season.

When you think about, the kids are headed back to school (in recent years and in many areas, most kids have to return to school before Labor Day, but that's not how I remember it growing up) the baseball season is coming to a climax and football is about to start. In short, families have come to celebrate Labor Day by going to fairs or parades, having backyard barbecues, going to the beach or on a picnic, and generally doing those things they know will soon be impossible or impractical due to the shortening daylight hours and the ratcheting up of busy schedules.

The three-day Labor Day weekend can be a great opportunity to step away from your home business or work at home job, recharge your batteries and spend some quality time with your family.

Why Do We Celebrate Labor Day?

The original intent of Labor Day was to provide a holiday that would honor the social and economic achievements of American workers. Essentially, it was intended to be, and in may ways remains, an annual national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. But how did it come about?

There are some disputes about who originally thought of the idea of an annual Labor Day observance. According to the Department of Labor, there is some controversy over whether Labor Day originated as the idea of Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, or of Matthew Maguire, a machinist, who later became the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J. Isn't it ironic that both who are given credit for starting the Labor Day tradition have the same last name with a different spelling?

When was the First Labor Day?

According to the Department of Labor, the first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, according to the plans of New York's Central Labor Union. The second Labor Day followed a year later, on September 5, 1883. Labor Day wasn't part of a three-day weekend until 1884, when the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed by the Central Labor Union, who then urged other labor organizations in other cities to celebrate the holiday on the first Monday of September.

Making Labor Day a Legal Holiday

The first state to enact a bill that would eventually become law to celebrate Labor Day was Oregon on February 21, 1887. Other states jumped on the bandwagon, just a few at first, but more than half of the states adopted the holiday to honor America's workers by 1894. On June 28, 1984 the U.S. Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. So the idea of a three-day Labor Day weekend was well in place across the U.S. over 100 years ago.

How We Celebrate Labor Day Now

While many still turn out to hear Labor Day speeches and attend parades, the focus of the American worker has turned more to celebrating a day off with family. Is that because labor unions have weakened in the U.S.? Quite possibly, but however you decide to celebrate Labor Day, have fun and take some time away from work to catch up with your family. Autumn fast approaches, and along with it the shorter days and increasing responsibilities of our jobs, our kids and school activities.

Like other holidays, if you have a home business and have been nudging your family aside to pursue your dreams, the three-day Labor Day weekend is a chance to reconnect with your loved ones. Maybe you can take a weekend getaway, or maybe you'd prefer to stay closer to home and avoid the traffic and crowds.

Whatever you decide to do, try to take some time out to help get your work and family life back in balance. Three-day weekends don't come along that often, and we should be thankful that our predecessors and ancestors were determined to make it happen.

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