What Does Labor Day Celebrate?

The History of Labor Day and Why we Celebrate It

Labor Day in America
Catherine Lane / Getty Images

When you think of Labor Day, what comes to mind? For many, it's the last long weekend before school starts. It's a weekend with picnics and barbecues, and maybe a parade. For some, it's the start of the fall season and anticipation of football. Like many other holidays, Americans enjoy the day off from work but have lost sight of what it was originally created to celebrate.

Whether you work in a job or run a home business, Labor Day was created to honor and celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers.

Origin of Labor Day

There is a dispute about who originally thought of the idea of an annual Labor Day observance. According to the Department of Labor, two men are put forward as the originators of the idea. One is Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. Another possible originator was Matthew Maguire, a machinist, who later became the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J.

Labor Day was first celebrated by local municipalities and states before becoming a national holiday. The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, according to the Department of Labor. It was organized by the New York Central Labor Union, which was made of several labor unions coming together to work toward better working conditions. The second Labor Day followed a year later, on September 5, 1883.

Labor Day wasn't part of a three-day weekend until 1884 when the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed by the Central Labor Union, which encouraged other cities and states to honor workers as well. From 1885 to 1894, 32 states passed bills to adopt a day to honor workers.

On June 28, 1894, Congress passed the act establishing the first Monday in September as a legal national Labor Day holiday.

Why We Celebrate Labor Day

The original intent of Labor Day was to provide a holiday that would honor the social and economic achievements of American workers. Essentially, it was intended to be an annual national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country.

During the industrial revolution, in particular, American workers built a strong nation with infrastructures such as railways, dams, roads, and bridges. While rich and powerful men, such as Andrew Carnegie, often get the credit, it was the workers who turned these great men's visions into reality.

How We Celebrate Labor Day Now

While many still turn out to hear Labor Day speeches and attend parades, the purpose of the holiday has fallen away and instead is usually viewed as the last hurrah of summer. Still, that's not necessarily a bad thing. In a nation of people who work more hours and take less vacation than other western nations, having one last summer party is greatly needed. Labor Day may not be a day in which people actively celebrate and honor workers, but it does give working people a much-needed respite, which is equally important.

Although Labor Day was originated by labor unions, the need to honor work and career expands beyond unionized industries. As an entrepreneur, you're making a contribution to the world, as well as supporting yourself and your family, which deserves a day of honor. Further, it's important to take time off, whether it's a weekend getaway or a vacation. You might even look up what sorts of Labor Day events are going on in your city. Many areas continue to hold parades and other events, such as music festivals.

What's important is that, even as a home-based entrepreneur, in which everything rides on you, it's important to take time off. Without work-life balance, you'll burn out making running your home business more difficult than it should be.