History

Why Nobody Cares What Labor Day Really Means

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When you ask a kid what Memorial Day is, I would bet money that — without parental guidance — they would say that it’s the day the pool opened. So what about Labor Day? 

According to Lauren Whitehouse, Yahoo Search Trend Expert, Yahoo searches for “what is labor day,” have been spiking this week. Because, let’s face it, we really just don’t know the answer anymore.

When asked “Do you know what Labor Day is for?” Nicole, 24, seemed embarrassed. “To be honest, no not really,” she said. “I want to say it’s celebrating all types of union workers but I feel like that’s totally wrong.” Well, she wasn’t too far off.

Historically, Labor Day , first established by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor back in 1887, was used to signify and celebrate “the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.” In practice, it’s used as an excuse to not actually work. It’s the day that you’re supposed to stop wearing white and that the local pool closes. In a culture of new-and-now, Labor Day is just the Monday that summer officially ends even though the fall solstice isn’t for another three weeks. It’s a slacking off, three-day-weekend of BBQs and beers. All because our ancestors worked so dang hard, they got a day to celebrate, and now, you get to sleep in every first Monday in September. 

In the early days of unions, Labor Day was a day that included parades to show to the people “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” It became the norm, to watch union workers and their families strut down the main road in red, white, and blue. Because of the large number of people flocking to watch the parade and the timing with school starting, retailers decided to create sales specific to Labor Day, which some cite as second only to Black Friday in terms of importance.

For others, though, Labor Day is for service industry workers what Valentine’s Day is for bitter singles. It’s a reminder of what you don’t have access to or what you can’t openly enjoy. Shawn, who works in the food service industry, says ,”For us, there’s no such thing [as Labor Day]. It’s one of those holidays where I get to harumph my way to work while everyone else barbecues and enjoys a long weekend.” 

“I’m not sure if [Labor Day] means anything to me, but it is a nice day off to celebrate all the other days of the year we have to work.” Amanda, 24, says. She also concludes that it’s a day for the beach and a bbq, one meant as a “thank you” from the government “for recognizing that I contribute to society in an economic way.”

National holidays, especially ones that have been around longer than we have been alive, are easily glanced over. We live in a culture of forgetfulness. Assumptions are made, like a game of telephone where the message is so construed from the original we don’t even attempt to salvage it, we just accept it. Memorial Day, Presidents Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. All these holidays matter more in our culture for the paid time off from work, rather than the root and history behind them. Remembrance days mean a lot less when we don’t actually remember.

Labor Day is a day to celebrate the hard work Americans put into growing this country into the powerhouse that it is today. And how do we celebrate it? By not working (cue “Isn’t it ironic?”). Even TV and media has no clue what Labor Day is about. Animal Planet has taken “labor” quite literally and decided to air an entire day of live animal births. Our culture, although rife with history being held onto with an iron fist, regards holidays like Labor Day as signifiers of things important in individuals lives, instead of the country as a whole. We either appreciate or we don’t, but it no longer is about unionizing or civic responsibility, it’s about forgetting for one day that we all live in a routine. It’s not the worst idea, using holidays like Labor Day or MLK Day as an excuse to relish in time off, but it just goes to show that society is forgetful, even when history is labeled on your calendar for you.