United States: Why Do Americans Celebrate Labor Day in September?

Festivals + Holidays

Americans across the United States will head to the mountains or the beaches today as they celebrate Labor Day, which is thought of as the last day of summer. But why don’t they celebrate it May First?

Memorial Day and Labor Day are sort of the bookends of summer. The former marks the beginning of summer; the latter, 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.

Both days are celebrated with picnics, barbecues, street parades, and fireworks displays after dark.

Many people think of them as the first and last chance to enjoy outdoor activities. 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, 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 progressively longer. The Autumnal Equinox occurs around 22 September. So take heart! 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 is done in most other countries?

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 8 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 didn’t want to mark the day with a holiday.

Politicians, however, slowly realized that it was necessary to establish an official holiday to honour workers.

Following a large strike of railway workers in 1894, the United States Congress passed legislation making Labor Day a national holiday.

Labor Day was originally held on 5 September. Following passage of the Uniform Holidays Act in 1968, it has been held on the first Monday of September so that Americans could enjoy a 3 day weekend.

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