Myth Trivia: American holidays and a ‘Labor’ of love

The genesis of our current American Labor Day holiday arose from the grievances of workers seeking better working conditions, higher wages and shorter hours.

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Recent Labor Day concert on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (PR photo for the event.)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., August 29, 2017 – September usually brings the first glimpses of fall. Along with them, on the first Monday of the month, comes Labor Day. With that thought in mind, today’s trivia column offers everything you ever wanted to know about our ninth month holiday but might have been afraid to ask.

The first, and most obvious question, is: Why do we celebrate Labor Day?

The movement that resulted in this popular holiday began during the 1800s, a time when American workers were toiling away in terrible working conditions for as much as 16 hours a day.

Though such conditions are unthinkable today, the genesis of our current American Labor Day holiday arose from the grievances of workers seeking better working conditions, higher wages and shorter hours.


Oddly enough, the first Labor Day observance was held on a Tuesday in 1882 when approximately 10,000 laborers gathered in New York City to participate in a parade organized by the Central Labor Union. A huge picnic followed the protest.

In less than two years, Congress passed an act declaring that Labor Day would be officially celebrated on the first Monday in September each year.

It wasn’t until 1887, however, that Labor Day was recognized as a legal holiday. Oregon takes the honors for that landmark decision. But it took seven more years before President Grover Cleveland declared the day an official national holiday.

Even so, poor working conditions continued in the United States. It was well into the first quarter of the 20th century before the Adamson Act established the 8-hour work day on September 3, 1916. The idea for a drastically shortened work day actually originated in Canada during their own labor movement that called for a 9-hour day in 1872.

While the United States gave birth to the idea of celebrating Labor Day, since that time in 1894, other countries have followed with their own interpretations of the holiday, such as Australia, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago.

Much has changed since early labor movements brought about awareness of workforce work issues, and the workforce itself is considerably enlarged. Currently, according to the most recent census in 2010, nearly 160-million Americans go to work each day.

Back in the latter part of the 19th century, it was not uncommon for children as young as five or six to be employed as farmers or factory workers. Today, each state makes its own laws about the legal age for employment with the average age set at about 14. The number of hours a minor (someone under the age of 16) is also established by the individual states.

Through all of this however, the real burning question remains “Is it appropriate to wear white after Labor Day?”

Back in the day, high brow fashionistas would not be caught dead wearing white in the “fall.” Labor Day was the demarcation point for society to shuck those lightweight summer togs and don the appropriate colors of the season. In other words, the anachronistic rule against white after Labor Day no longer applies.

Yes, today, that quaint notion has pretty much gone by the wayside except for the occasional offhand remark when someone is demonstrating his or her faux pretensions in a good-natured manner.

Supposedly, as it used to be with school openings, Labor Day also represented the unofficial transition from warmer to cooler temperatures, as most Americans bid “ciao” to summer.

But September is also a popular month for births, which, if you count backward on the calendar, usually indicates how good that New Year’s Eve party really was.

In that sense, “Labor Day” can be any day it wants to be in September and the first Monday actually has nothing to do with it, President Cleveland notwithstanding.

About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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