Sometimes it seems like America has a ton of holidays! Labor Day – which falls on the first Monday in September – comes about ¾ of the way through the year. For some people, it marks the beginning of a new school year with school starting the next day. For others, it’s just another holiday. But, what does Labor Day mean and why do we celebrate it?
Timeline of Events
A study of Labor Day wouldn’t be complete without first looking at how it became a national holiday!
- September 5, 1882 – First Labor Day celebration (even though this was a Tuesday)
- 1884 – In this year, it was decided that Labor Day would be held on the first Monday of September.
- 1885 – With the rise in industrial workers and an increase in labor organizations, Labor Day was celebrated.
- 1894 – Labor Day became a federal holiday.
History of Labor Day
Labor Day is a collective celebration of the hard work of all American workers. It’s not just for military workers; it’s meant to pay tribute to the work of all Americans. Though we still celebrate it several decades later, Labor Day actually emerged during one of the most dismal times in America’s labor history.
Toward the end of the 19th century, American workers often worked 12-hour days and 7-day workweeks. Though it was illegal, they also often had children as young as five or six working alongside adults in factories across the nation. Why children? Because employers could get away with paying them only a fraction of the adult wage – despite the fact that they often worked faster. Sadly, all workers had to put up with less-than-ideal circumstances for working, such as unsanitary working conditions, poorly ventilated factories, and very few breaks. This was especially true for the poor and for recent immigrants.
As manufacturing became more popular, so did labor unions. In fact, they became much more vocal and prominent in the 19th century. These labor unions organized strikes and rallies as a protest to poor working conditions. They also urged employers to renegotiate hours and pay for employees.
The idea of a holiday for all workers in America quickly caught popularity. But, when is Labor Day? While it’s different every year (since it falls on the first Monday in September and not a particular date), it is always somewhere in the first week of September. On September 5, 1882, about 10,000 workers took an unpaid holiday to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City. This is known as the first Labor Day parade in the United States. It would still be another 12 years, however, before Congress would recognize the holiday as a national one.
Celebrating Labor Day With Kids
Today, Labor Day is celebrated with parades, picnics, family gatherings, barbeques, and fireworks. For some, it marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. Many adults also enjoy a day off from work. Looking for some other fun ways to celebrate this holiday? Perhaps one of the following Labor Day activities will be suitable for your family:
- Plan a factory tour. Labor Day got its start by paying homage to all workers but in the 19th century, most hard laborers were involved in the factory scene in some way. Help your students understand what goes on in a factory by giving them a tour of a one that’s local to you.
- If possible, plan ahead when buying gifts and purchase American-made products. This helps support the laborers in America, many of whom would be out of a job if the demand declined drastically. You can take this a step further by making sure most or all of your regular purchases are from American-made companies.
- Looking for something to do on Labor Day for kids? Not everyone has Labor Day off from work. Included among those who don’t would be firefighters and police officers. Let them know you’re thinking about them on this day by baking up some goodies to take to them on Labor Day!
- Attend (or throw) a White Party! Traditionally, fashion gurus tell us not to wear white after Labor Day. Before you pack up anything that breaks the rules, celebrate the end of summer with an all-white-attire party. Check the local restaurants and community centers to see if someone is having one you can attend but if not, why not throw one yourself?
- Since Labor Day is about celebrating those in all professions, choose a profession that piques your children’s interest and celebrate it by creating a mini unit study revolving around that profession. Start by going to the library to gather books on the chosen profession and be sure to bookmark any YouTube videos that are related. If you want to take it further, see if you can visit a person in that profession and bring your family along for a tour of his or her workplace.
Labor Day Activities for Kids
With the fall season right around the corner, your kids will probably welcome some fun end-of-summer activities. Whether you’re looking for something to add to your Labor Day lesson plans or just something for the kids to do at a family barbeque, we’re sure you’ll find these useful!