The Real Meaning of Labor Day

Labor Day

For many of us, Labor Day signifies the close of summer. Sure, the season technically extends for a couple more weeks on the calendar, but Labor Day is when many of us close up the cabins, prepare to head back to school, and start drinking pumpkin spice lattes.

And yet, Labor Day wasn’t originally intended to signal a shift in the seasons, nor did it have anything to do with pumpkin spiced anything. Instead, Labor Day originated as part of the labor movement, as a day to honor and celebrate the workers who kept the economy moving forward. During the 19th century, workers—particularly those in the manufacturing trades—worked tirelessly, routinely putting in 80- or 100-hour work weeks. Workers began to fight back against these expectations, forming unions and organizing together to create leverage. (An interesting note: many business and government were reportedly very much in favor of reducing the number of hours in a typical workweek because when people work 18-hour days, they don’t have time to funnel money back into the economy via leisure pursuits.)

The exact origins of Labor Day, and whom should be credited with the holiday, is up for debate. However, we know that it Labor Day parades started in the 1880s and the first Monday in September became an official federal holiday in 1894.

Many of us mark the day with a barbecue or a final trip to the lake, but it’s important to note that not everyone has the day off. As a federal holiday, it’s observed by government offices, but there are still plenty of people who spend the day working. (Think: police, fire, medical professionals, servers…) If you encounter someone on the job today (or any holiday, or—heck—any day), honor their service and thank them for doing what they do. Let’s spread a little more positivity throughout the world!