Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why is Labor Day a "patriotic" holiday?

On Independence Day we celebrate our founding as a nation - if we're going to have a flag-waving holiday, that's the logical choice. On Memorial Day we celebrate our fallen warriors - so that one makes sense, too. We have two days on which we celebrate specific American heroes - Presidents' Day and Martin Luther King Day - but those evince at most mild patriotic displays. Thanksgiving is traditionally American, but centers more around family than country. New Year's Day is a strictly secular, global holiday; finally, Easter and Christmas are religious, global holidays.

Other than minor holidays like Veteran's Day and Columbus Day, which most of us don't get anyway, that leaves only Labor Day. In my experience, Labor Day is third behind only Independence Day and Memorial Day in patriotic displays. In my town, for example, we have a fireworks display. I see kids wearing American flag clothing in the park.

But Labor Day is not especially American, and the part of it that is has not much to do with founding American values. Labor Day commemorates the bloody breaking of a strike in 1894. Its associations are with the International Labor movement and it is essentially the American version of May Day, which is the international (not American) socialist holiday (and also commemorates a massacre during a 19th-century strike). Labor Day was created as a conciliatory gesture toward the growing labor movement.

So I don't quite understand the fireworks and the flags. USA! USA! We're unionized!

5 comments:

  1. I was initially very confused when you stated that "May Day" was a socialist holiday, since May Day pre-dates socialism by, oh, a couple thousand years.

    "May Day is related to the Celtic festival of Beltane and the Germanic festival of Walpurgis Night. May Day falls exactly half a year from November 1, another cross-quarter day which is also associated with various northern European pagan and neopagan festivals such as Samhain. May Day marks the end of the winter half of the year in the Northern hemisphere, and it has traditionally been an occasion for popular and often raucous celebrations"

    I was totally unaware of the other meaning of May Day, which is not an American holiday (unlike real May Day, which is, same as Halloween and St. Patrick's day, which are all American by adoption). However, the socialist May Day you are talking about does have more in common with Labor Day

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  2. this is a pretty old blog post, and I'm not sure if anyone is revisiting it, but it pings high on a google search for "patriotic labor day". So I thought I'd leave my 2-cents.
    I work in advertising and my customers routinely request gaudily patriotic layouts for all array of national holidays. I try to resist them because I detest the idea of selling patriotic fervor.
    So obviously I've become kind of a pessimist when it comes to patriotism/nationalism. That said, I feel like the overly patriotic white-washing of Labor Day serves a single purpose (which can have multiple effects): the symbolism of stars and stripes counteracts potential socialist/communist tie-ins to organized labor, creating a more unified feeling.
    Oddly enough, Labor Day is not a required day off, resulting in slues of service, hospitality and retail workers working even harder for a day which is supposed to celebrate their efforts. Maybe someday this will change, seeing as how we've migrated from a production economy to a service economy.

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  3. I asked about this because my husband thinks it's NOT a patriotic holiday but I kinda do. I see flags all over the place in my neighborhood and at the car dealerships but I couldn't figure out the significance of patriotism on this day. I suppose that I'll just wait for Veteran'so day to display my American flag! 💋

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  4. I asked about this because my husband thinks it's NOT a patriotic holiday but I kinda do. I see flags all over the place in my neighborhood and at the car dealerships but I couldn't figure out the significance of patriotism on this day. I suppose that I'll just wait for Veteran'so day to display my American flag! 💋

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  5. It's really too bad there aren't more comments. I tend to agree with James Jones from 2010. I don't know much about May Day. Is there more than one? I guess you can make something out of anything even nothing. I'd rate any holiday that seems to call for flag waving as patriotic. 1-Independence Day, 2-Memorial Day, 3-Veterans' Day, 4-Flag Day, 5-Presidents' Day, etc. Labor Day to me seems like o be about the people who work a lot and hard like blue collar workers - definitely NOT for people out of work. Yet we don't give a lot of our workers the day off. Silly!

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