Demonstration in the centre of Zurich, Switzerland, on 1 May 2019. Photo Credit: Arie Wubber.
Festivals + Holidays
People around the world will celebrate May First today, but for most Americans, it is just another day. So why do Americans celebrate Labor Day in September? In fact, May First has its roots in the U.S. And there’s an interesting story behind why it isn’t celebrated there.
Memorial Day and Labor Day in the United States
Memorial Day and Labor Day are sort of the bookends of summer in the United States.
The former marks the beginning of summer. And the latter marks summer’s end.
But why don’t the Americans celebrate Labor Day on May First?
Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday of May. Labor Day is observed on the first Monday of September.
Americans celebrate both days with picnics, barbecues, street parades, and fireworks displays after dark.
In fact, many people think of them as the first and last chance to enjoy outdoor activities. And for this reason, many people head to the mountains or the sea or amusement parks or other popular travel destinations.
Campgrounds, hotels, motels, and resorts are usually fully booked. Airlines often add flights to accommodate the increase in demand for travel – and raise fares, as well.
If Labor Day is the last day of summer in the popular sense, the real last day of summer falls on the Autumnal Equinox. That is when the sun crosses the Equator and day and night are of equal length.
After that, the days in the Northern Hemisphere get progressively shorter. And the nights are progressively longer. The Autumnal Equinox occurs around 22 September. So take heart! After Labor Day, you’ve still got a couple of weeks of summer left!
International Workers Day
But why don’t the Americans celebrate Labor Day on May First as people in most other countries do?
In more than 80 countries around the world, workers and labour unions take to the streets on the first day of May in what is known as May Day or International Workers Day.
Interestingly, May Day has its roots in the United States. On 1 May 1886, police in Chicago, Illinois, shot and killed several workers that were demonstrating for an eight hour work day. The event became known as the Haymarket Affair.
Workers around the world started demonstrating in commemoration of the event on the First of May. And it soon became an official holiday in many parts of the world.
On the one hand, government officials in the United States feared that anger over the Haymarket killings might lead to violence. So they didn’t want to mark the day with a holiday.
However, politicians slowly realized that it was necessary to establish an official holiday to honour workers.
After railway workers went on strike in 1894, the United States Congress passed legislation making Labor Day a national holiday.
Americans originally celebrated Labor Day on 5 September. After Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Act in 1968, they celebrated it on the first Monday of September so they could enjoy a three day weekend.