Labor Day

If you are living in the U.S. or working with Americans, remember that Labor Day weekend is Saturday, August 31 – Monday, September 2.  Government buildings and schools will be closed, as will most offices and banks.  Larger stores will be open, but may close early. Smaller family businesses may or may not be open.

From “May Day” to “Last Weekend of Summer”

The U.S. does not officially observe May Day – the May 1st holiday dedicated to international worker solidarity – because of its perceived connections to Communism.  Instead, the federal holiday for commemorating labor’s contributions and struggles is the first Monday in September.  (For more about the day’s history, visit the Department of Labor).

Today the general public sees Labor Day as a holiday marking the end of summer.  Even though kids in some parts of the country have already returned to school, most fall events have yet to begin. The changing leaves, football season, hunting season, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are all just around the corner.  Labor Day offers a respite between the end of summer and the fall frenzy.

How to celebrate:

One option is to travel.  Many people extend their holiday by tacking on one or more of their vacation days (which they earn little by little, through their employer) to the beginning or the end of the 3-day weekend. This is appealing because one or two saved vacation days can be transformed into five or six days off.  The only problem: because lots of people have the same clever idea, prices tend to be higher for flights, hotels, rental cars, and gas (petrol).

A surprisingly uncrowded Venice Beach in California (Copyright 2010 Melissa Hahn)
A surprisingly uncrowded Venice Beach in California (Copyright 2010 Melissa Hahn)


Another option is to host or attend a cookout.  If you are invited, it is good form to offer to bring a side dish or dessert (something that will not require any additional time or work on the part of the host).  Typically the host will decline your offer and then you would not be expected to bring anything. Some guests will bring something anyway, especially if it is a small gathering or they know the host very well.  If you are not able to attend, you can politely decline by saying, “Thank you for the invitation, but unfortunately I already have plans.”

You could also consider hosting your own cookout.  Don’t feel obligated to limit your menu to hamburgers and hotdogs. As these and these recipes  show, there are plenty of colorful, flavorful alternatives.  You should confirm that your guests do not have any food allergies or dietary restrictions.  In particular, meat, shellfish, nuts, and alcohol could be problematic.

Tips: Extend your invitations to guests at least a few days in advance. (Some people will create e-invites, but a verbal invitation is fine).  If you wait until the weekend, most people will already have plans.  Cookouts typically start between 2-5 pm and end by 8 pm, and usually take place outside, weather permitting.  Cookouts are almost always casual.  Men should wear jeans or shorts with a T-shirt or khaki pants with a polo shirt; women should wear jeans or shorts with a T-shirt or a summery skirt or sundress.

Go shopping.

If you aren’t able to go on vacation this year and need to kill some time before that cookout, you might find yourself at the local mall because every store will be offering impressive discounts.  It is also a day when Americans shop for big items like cars and television sets.  (Ironically, it is today’s representatives of labor – the beleaguered service employees who tend to be un-unionized – who will be doing all of the work today).

Look for local events

If none of these options suit you, get into the civic spirit by checking your local municipality and labor union calendars of events.  You may discover a parade, picnic, protest, festival, or county fair to attend.

No matter how you celebrate, embrace the weekend and savor the time off.  By Tuesday it will be “back to work” and you will soon be swept up in the flurry of fall activity.

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