Like many a holiday, Labor Day’s origins have become somewhat obscured by a modern understanding informed by commercialization. Today, it’s largely a day of sales and barbecues, and a shared agreement that summer is ending.
Even for those who do connect the day’s meaning to labor (as in, doing work!), it’s not uncommon to see differences of opinion as to how the holiday should be celebrated. Perhaps because Labor Day is an “official” holiday—and accordingly a day off from work, at least at the federal level—most seem to think the idea is to celebrate workers by simply giving them a three-day weekend.
This doesn’t quite align with the original intention of the holiday. Labor Day was in fact originally established as a means of honoring and demonstrating the caliber and contributions of the American worker. It wasn’t meant only to be a reward for good work, but also a showcase for it.
Udacity students and alumni, do you have examples of your good work to share? Click below—and add a link—so we can showcase YOU!
One of the original goals of the “official” holiday in fact—as detailed in the House Committee of Labor’s report on the 1894 legislation that made Labor Day a federal holiday—was to “kindle an honorable desire in each craft to surpass the rest.” In short, to inspire healthy competition and high quality work.
It would be remiss at this point not to note that this federal legislation was in some ways an apology to the labor movement, made after the Army was called out to suppress a strike and over a dozen workers were killed. But this regrettable chapter of Labor Day’s origin story should in no way obscure the fact the nation as a whole was already in the spirit of recognizing the contributions American workers were making to the country. At the time the federal holiday was established, 30 states already celebrated a holiday in honor of workers.
Today represents an opportunity to capture a little bit of that original Labor Day spirit, that desire to honor those who work hard, and to showcase their good work. Here at Udacity, we are blessed to be part of a connected global community, so while the first Monday of September is Labor Day in the United States, we choose to enjoy this day at a global level by honoring the good work being done by all our students and graduates.
Garrison Keillor, author, humorist, and longtime host of the radio show A Prairie Home Companion, famously ends his Writer’s Almanac program with these words: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”
It is in this spirit today that we say to all Udacians, be well, and keep in touch. And while you’re at it, send this tweet, so we can retweet you! (And remember, add a link to YOUR good work!)