For those of us who live in south Louisiana, the arrival of another Labor Day prompts a good bit of self-congratulation. We know, with relief and no small amount of pride, that we’ve survived another summer in a place where the mercury rises each May and stubbornly stays there, like a cat stuck in a tree.
Summer doesn’t officially end until Sept. 23 this year, but Labor Day is the notch we informally place in the calendar to tell us a season has turned. It’s early autumn now, no matter what the purists might say.
If our fellow Americans up north can claim some measure of their ancestors’ pioneer spirit by making it through frozen winters each year, then Labor Day is our time to brag. We’ve stared down one more summer, with its high sun and muggy embrace, yet somehow prevailed.
On lucky Labor Days — and this is one of them — there can also be gratitude to have come this far into the year without a hurricane. Hurricane season officially ends in November, and vigilance must still be the order of the day. But this Labor Day is a time to count our blessings, cross our fingers and wish for calm skies until Thanksgiving.
Labor Day is a way station between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, and it was put on the calendar precisely for that reason. In 1882, Peter J. McGuire, the founder and general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, suggested setting aside one day to honor America’s laborers. He saw a gap in the calendar between Independence Day and Thanksgiving, and thought the holiday would, in his words, “fill a gap in the chronology of legal holidays.”
McGuire was a native of New York, but his gift for spotting a lull in the year that needed a parade and a party seems like a Louisiana way of looking at the world, doesn’t it? He would probably have felt right at home here.
New Yorkers observed the first Labor Day in 1882, when McGuire cooked up the idea, and it became a national holiday in 1893, when President Grover Cleveland signed it into law. Getting an extra day off was a big deal for workers back then, as a young labor movement struggled to achieve what many Americans broadly enjoy today: a 40-hour work week and formalized vacation policies.
The best gift of Labor Day, for those fortunate enough to have the day off, is the day itself — a few spare hours at the tail of summer, to spend as we like before autumn begins in earnest. Thank you, Mr. McGuire, for making it so.