What Is Labor Day?

We know the history of most holidays pretty well. Memorial Day is where we remember those who died in wars. Thanksgiving is a celebration of when Americans ate with the Indians before we took their land. Christmas is when Jesus gives us presents.

But what exactly is Labor Day? Sure, it’s a day to celebrate workers. But what is its history?

It’s not actually known for sure who actually should get credit for the holiday. Some say it was Peter J. McGuire, the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor. He suggested a holiday for American workers at a meeting.

A drawing of the first parade in Union Square, 1882.

But others say it was Matthew Maguire, a machinist, who proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York City. That labor union held the first Labor Day events on September 5, 1882.

So maybe Maguire stole the idea from McGuire? Maybe McGuire just didn’t have the connections to make it happen? Either way, Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher are going to make a great film about it.

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It took until 1894 for it to become a national holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. And who, exactly, are we celebrating?

According to the Census Bureau, there are roughly 156 million American workers as of May 2013. The top jobs are retail workers, followed by cashiers, then food preparers and servers. Compare that to the top jobs in 1910, farmers and farm workers.

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Can we celebrate this every day?

And many people consider Labor Day the end of the summer, but technically it isn’t. That is actually at 4:44pm on September 22.

Finally, we’ve all heard the “don’t wear white after Labor Day” jokes. There are two reasons why people think that exists.

The first is because white is a cooler color to wear in the summer so once Labor Day hits (the accepted yet scientifically inaccurate end of summer), summer is over and you don’t want to wear white because it’ll just remind you of twerking at the beach.

Some people are really into this rule.

The second reason is more symbolic. In the early 20th century, white was a popular color to wear for those with enough money to take summer vacations. It was a look of relaxation and fun. Dark colors were worn in the city and during work days. So, when Labor Day comes, it’s the end of summer and it’s time to go back to the city to work.

That’s it for Labor Day. We hope you enjoyed this quick lesson on a classic American holiday. We’ll be back October 12 to explain Columbus Day, a day we celebrate the dude who might have killed thousands with his Syphilis.

– Mark (follow me on Twitter. It’s neat!)