Everything You Wanted to Know About Your Favorite September Holiday
Ah, Labor Day. Hard to believe it’s here already. Many of us likely enjoy the day off without giving much thought to what it’s about. In terms of getting some rest for the fruits of our labor, the numbers suggest we’ve earned it.
Statistics show that Americans work longer hours annually than citizens of most other countries: 137 hours more per year than Japan, 260 hours more than the United Kingdom, and 499 hours more than France. And our productivity is high—400% higher than it was in 1950—so, yeah, we totally deserve a day off. Luckily this weekend, Labor Day is it!
“Days off” such as Labor Day, however, and paid vacation time or even weekends weren’t always a thing. We owe all of that to the victories of labor unions and worker uprisings and over the past 230 years or so; the first of which occurred in 1835 when a group of Philadelphia carpenters famously went on strike demanding a shorter work day. Not sure how many hours they themselves were clocking, but since they achieved their goal of a 10 hour workday it must’ve been a lot! Their efforts, along with those of many others over many more decades of protest, eventually led to the 8-hour workdays, 40-hour work weeks and other workplace protections we enjoy today.
The inventor of Labor Day itself? Well, the answer to that is a little murky (as history can sometimes be) with a couple of different people taking credit. Prevailing legend gives it to yet another carpenter, Peter McGuire (a New Yorker this time), who stood before the city’s Central Labor Union in May 1882 proclaiming a plan to honor all workers with a parade all over town. It would allow the general public to recognize and appreciate the work of trade and labor organizations, and a festival would follow for the amusement of everyone. No surprise, McGuire’s idea took root (who doesn’t love that parade/festival combo?) and the first Labor Day celebration was first held in The Big Apple on September 5, 1882. It was repeated over subsequent years in cities around the country, and eventually became a federal holiday in 1894.
As for why we in America honor this celebration of “the working class” on the first Monday in September versus on May 1st—aka “May Day”—which is the tradition around much of the rest of the world? Seems the objective here was to create a new day off in the long gap of holidays between Independence Day on July 4th and Thanksgiving, the last Thursday in November. If you’ve ever wondered (and really, who hasn’t?), now it all makes sense.
Roasted turkey, of course, defines Thanksgiving, and BBQs are quintessentially Labor Day. No big surprise given that it is still summer after all! But as it’s dubbed the “unofficial” last weekend of summer (before the masses return to routine following a more relaxed schedule since Memorial Day), there’s extra pressure to make the Labor Day cookout count! An article published in The Bakersfield Californian in 1907 shows that by the early 1900s, BBQs had already become a standard Labor Day activity:
“At noon time a great barbecue will be served at the park. This, like everything else in the day’s entertainment, being free to holders of the entrance ticket, in the form of a tag. Joe Yancey and Joe Mackey have this most important feature of the day’s entertainment in charge and promise that the hungry public shall be fed bountifully. Beef will be roasted in the good old Spanish style, and there will be plenty of other eatables in sight.”
Delicious as “Spanish-style beef” sounds, nationaltoday.com says the “eatables” are slightly less exotic these days. According to its survey, 67% of Americans will fire-up the grill at some point over Labor Day weekend, with 70% of them putting burgers on the menu followed by hot dogs at 51%.
This distant, second-place finish by hot dogs is a little surprising given that the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (who knew?) says this time of year is officially “Hot Dog Season,” adding that Americans consume roughly 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day—or about 818 of them every second. WOW! Rounding-out the Labor Day list of delicacies for Americans who will BBQ is chicken at 40%, steak at 37% and ribs at 32%, with some vegan options in there for good measure too. Truth told, we’re good with all of it and are just happy to be invited to the feast. What time’s dinner? We’ll bring desert.
Certainly there’s no downside that we can see to any BBQ, other than the fairly high likelihood of getting BBQ sauce, ketchup, mustard or relish on your outfit (or all the above)—and when that happens (which is always) your outfit is often (as fate would have it) a white one, right? Though such “accidents” are a bummer, the good news is you’ll have lots of time to get your white clothes clean. Why? As the legendary Labor Day fashion rule states, you’re not supposed to wear white after this weekend until next spring anyway.
Or are you? And what is up with this “rule”?
For the record: we’re of the opinion that wearing what you like will always be right, even if that means white clothes or shoes after Labor Day. It seems society—particularly high society—hasn’t always been quite so flexible, as explained in this September 2011 excerpt from Time Magazine:
“Historians think this maxim stems from class divisions at the turn of the 20th century when lightweight clothes were a symbol of the leisure classes. Back then, Labor Day marked the time the affluent returned from vacation, packed away the summer clothes and went back to school and work.
While there’s a practical reason for the rule — white clothes dirty easily thus making them ill-suited for heavy autumn rains and winter slush — those who carried the rule through the decades had a less than practical reason for doing so.
Indeed, as the years went by, traditionalists and nouveau riche alike continued to eschew winter whites throughout the 20th century in order to remain acceptable in high society. But where there’s a rule, there is always a rule breaker… and today many people have moved toward a seasonless wardrobe, wearing white in all seasons — tradition be damned.”
Regardless of how the rule originated, with all fashion insiders these days overlooking it, we’re pretty sure it’s a done deal. Keep out your whites, let there be light.
Let there be darkness, though, for the final tid-bit in this blog of Labor Day lusciousness—or at least a dimly-lit room and comfy couch to cozy up on.
Watching a worker-themed film is also a good way to get into the Labor Day spirit. Might sound like a drag, but chances are you’ve already seen and enjoyed more of them than you realize. 1979’s Norma Rae (which won Sally Field her first Oscar), 2005’s North Country (which garnered Charlize Theron a nomination) and the 1989 Michael Moore documentary Roger & Me are among the more well-known that come to mind, but there are lots of others that honor working men and women and the labor movement too. The New York Times curated a list of several others that are worth a watch, which we are happy to share. Pass the popcorn please.
Whether you’re kissing a carpenter (or a few!) for giving us this holiday, firing some hot dogs on the grill, tidying your whities for another year, or watching Sally Field get mad and even in Norma Rae, we wish you an amazing, restful weekend in preparation for a productive fall ahead.
Happy Labor Day!