Controversy surrounds the origin of Labor Day, but it was first celebrated in the 1880’s. One story connects it with a General Assembly of the Knights of Labor in September of 1882, followed by a public parade of various labor organizations. Some say that Matthew Maquire (or McGuire), Secretary of the Central Labor Union (CLU), was the first to propose that a national Labor Day holiday be held on the first Monday of each September.
Another story maintains that Peter J. McGuire (or is it Maguire?), brother to Matthew Maquire (The Old Farmer’s Almanac), and vice president of the American Federation of Labor at the time, had proposed a celebration of the laboring classes back in the spring of 1882. McGuire claims that he further proposed to the CLU – a fledgling labor organization in New York City – that a street parade, picnic, and public demonstration of organized labor’s solidarity be held. Furthermore, he suggested that tickets be sold as a fundraiser. Peter J. McGuire is generally credited as “the father of Labor Day in the United States.” (James Green, Wikipedia) Whichever story is accurate, the first Labor Day Parade took place in New York’s Union Square the first Monday of September in 1882.
An event first established to honor the contributions that workers have made to the “strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being of America,” according to James Green, sited above, Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. In 1887, Oregon became the first state to make it an official public holiday, and by the time it had become a federal holiday in 1894, 30 states were already celebrating Labor Day. Canada also celebrates Labour Day – a European spelling – on the first Monday in September, but more than 80 countries celebrate an International Workers’ Day on May 1 – the ancient European holiday of May Day.
Labor Day has made a cultural mark. At one time, it was considered a faux pas to wear white (or seersucker!) after Labor Day. Many of us will remember that school always, always began the Tuesday after Monday’s Labor Day. Before the beginning of the school year was moved to mid August (Aghhhhh!), the first high school football games began the Friday after Labor Day. The NCAA teams usually play their first games on Labor Day weekend. The Southern 500 NASCAR auto race has been held on Labor Day weekend for most years since 1950. And, (Oh, the joy of hunters), September 1 marks the opening of dove season in many states across America!
From coast to coast, America celebrates Labor Day. It is a day that recognizes all workers of America, from the laborers to the entrepreneurs to the small business owners to the corporate leaders. But, perhaps it is best recognized nowadays as a last hoorah of the summer. Chicago has a Jazz Festival where some 150,000 were expected in attendance throughout this holiday weekend. Sand sculpting is a major event in San Diego – one which began August 31 and runs through September 3 – where world master sculptors create art from quarry sand. During this four-day period, San Diego calls itself SAND iego. For the 42nd year, the Great Pershing Balloon Derby occurs in Missouri where balloons fly up to several thousand feet and visitors shop the craft vendors and flock around food trucks. In Pomona, CA, the L.A. County Fair opens on Labor Day weekend. On the banks of the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, PN, folks gather to celebrate not only the American workers but the American Indian in its Kipona Festival.
Here in South Texas, we have our own traditions, not the least of which is the Frio! Woe to the locals who found themselves trying to negotiate Highway 90 last Friday afternoon! Not only were there hunters out for the much anticipated opening day of dove season, perhaps half the state was traveling to the Frio, the Nueces, and Lake Amistad. And, many families who didn’t travel visited local parks – such as San Antonio’s Brackenridge – or gathered in their backyards for cookouts – BBQ, hotdogs, and fajitas.
For countless years, our family spent every Labor Day weekend at the family cabin at Alto Frio for three more final days of frolicking in the Frio. What great memories. How did your family celebrate? What indelible memories has your family made?