Most of us, including the people who put out this newspaper, will enjoy a unique holiday Monday. Let’s hear it for Labor Day, our unjustly unsung national day of rest.
Unlike many other holidays celebrated by this cantankerous nation, Labor Day is almost without controversy. In fact, if it didn’t come just as school was starting each fall, it, along with the Fourth of July, would be a perfect holiday. As we have noted before in this space, it has earned a few words of praise. Think about it:
Labor Day has no religious connotations, so there’s no painful church-and-state debate about how to observe it, whether it should be mentioned in schools, whether it favors one set of beliefs over another. It’s just a day off for people who work for a living. Try to start an argument about that.
Labor Day always gives us a nice, long weekend, because it falls on the first Monday in September in every state and territory. As such, the members of the New Hampshire Legislature aren’t inclined to muck around with it. It’s supposed to be part of a long weekend, so nobody has to feel guilty about it.
There’s no historical figure associated with Labor Day, so there are no ugly debates over whether he or she really merits a holiday more than some other deserving soul.
Labor Day is almost purely an American holiday. (Canada also celebrates it, but it began here.) And, unlike Thanksgiving, another made-in-the-USA day off, Labor Day does not get us embroiled in discussions of how badly European settlers treated native peoples, or about whom we should be thanking.
What’s more, the holiday is not tinged with sadness, as are our two holidays honoring veterans and those who died in the country’s wars. While a happy Memorial Day picnic may seem inappropriate, given the reason for the holiday, no one need feel guilty about having a good time on Labor Day. That’s what we’re supposed to do.
Labor Day was first celebrated in New York in 1882, started by a labor union, the Knights of Labor. It soon became a day to focus on the bitter labor-management conflicts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Organized labor leaders still tend to view the holiday as their own. In 1889, the Second Socialist International designated May 1 — May Day — as a rival celebration for socialists and Communists to observe. For exactly one century, the dueling holidays underscored the deep division between socialist and capitalist societies.
But the contentious origins of the U.S. Labor Day have now largely faded from the public consciousness. Most Americans — fat-cat industrialists as well as hourly workers — long ago rallied around the now-benign holiday.
So take the extra day off this weekend, and enjoy doing so.