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Culture Connections: The story behind Labor Day

September 3, 2012

By: Lauren Coffaro, Career Advancement Program Associate

Culture Connections is a series of articles which explore the unique opportunities, interests, challenges, and questions of international participants living in the U.S. on J-1 Intern/Trainee and J-1 Work & Travel programs.

This weekend as workers across the United States gear up for a relaxing three day weekend with family and friends, participants on the J-1 Work & Travel and J-1 Intern/Trainee programs may be asking…

What is Labor Day and how did it begin?

Labor Day is a national holiday in the United States that celebrates the worker.  The first celebration was on September 5, 1882 in New York City.  A labor union there organized a large parade to celebrate the working man.  Around that time, it was typical for Americans to work 12-16 hours a day in difficult manufacturing and industrial jobs for very little pay.  For them, this was one day to celebrate the contributions they made to their families and societies.

A Labor Day parade in Garfield County, Colorado in 1973. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Starting with Oregon, U.S. states began to enact Labor Day as a legal government holiday.  In 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the federal bill to celebrate Labor Day as a national holiday on the first Monday of September each year.

Many countries around the world celebrate their own labor day, called “May Day,” in the spring of each year!  Romania, Germany, Ireland, and Canada are just a few!

How do Americans celebrate Labor Day?

Though summer officially ends on September 21st, Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer for many Americans.  It is typical that outdoor pools close after Labor Day and public schools often start the new academic year the very next day.  Labor Day is also the official “kick-off” of the American football leagues, both college and national.

For much of the 20th century, fashion etiquette dictated that Labor Day was the last day it was acceptable to wear white shoes and pants, which were thought to be solely for the summer.  Though this “rule” has relaxed considerably over the years, you still may hear an American say “don’t wear white after Labor Day!”

A traditional backyard barbeque.
Licensed under Creative Commons.

Many Americans like to celebrate the end to the summer season with a traditional barbeque or backyard grill of hot dogs, brats, hamburgers, and kebabs!  It is common to go to the pool, relax on the beach, or go hiking as the weather throughout most of the nation is agreeable in early September.

How will you celebrate Labor Day?  Share your comments below. CCI Greenheart would love to hear from you. Have a great holiday weekend!

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