Labor Day Revisited!A Christian Response to Labor Day
A Misunderstood Holiday
Have you ever worked in a job that you didn’t really enjoy? Do you currently work in a hostile work environment? Are you tired of working all the time, especially on days when you just don’t want to get out of bed? What about those holidays that you really wanted to have off? You know those days that most Federal employees get to have off?
Most of us would answer yes to at least one of these questions. Today on Labor Day, if you get to enjoy time off from your job, please remember those who are required to work on the holiday. Although Labor Day is a time of remembrance and relaxation for America’s working people, a time that many celebrate the end of summer, many Americans have always worked during the holiday, often out of necessity.
We can all remember enjoying Labor Day with friends and family in the past. Presumably, it plays a part in the relational history of our lives. Marking the unofficial end of Summer, many parks close and most beaches discontinue lifeguard service after Labor Day. Schools and colleges traditionally reopen for a new academic year. Labor Day weekend is a major retail event with various sales in stores and online. The weekend is full of numerous sports events, concerts, reunions, barbecues, and family vacations. But what about the history of Labor Day itself? Where did it come from and why do we celebrate it?
How Labor Day Came About
Labor Day started during the late 1800s at a time when the word “labor” was a loaded term. After the Civil War, America entered an age of great industrial growth and expansion. But it was also an age of corruption, greed, and poverty. While some grew rich and powerful, millions endured hours of long, hard, and exhausting work just to survive. Working conditions were unsafe, unsanitary and unrewarding. Although we may grumble about our jobs today, labor circumstances in the nineteenth century could be worse than anything we can imagine with little to no possibility for advancement.
Organized groups of workers joined together to form “labor unions” in hopes of better wages and improved job conditions. Two major groups emerged: the “Central Labor Union” and the “Knights of Labor.” These unions started a movement to establish a day in honor of the working class and its cause. The first Monday in September was chosen primarily because it fell about midway between July 4th and Thanksgiving, a part of the calendar which was a monotonous expanse of work days with no current days off.
The First Labor Day Celebration
The first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882 in New York City. It was a joyful occasion with picnics, speeches, and fireworks. Amazingly, they held a parade with over ten thousand participants. A gathering of that size was almost unheard of in those days. Unfortunately, within a few years things turned in a different direction.
On May 3, 1886, a major labor protest was held, and several people were killed by police. The next day, as another crowd formed, a bomb was thrown at police and the infamous “Haymarket Riot” ensued. At least eleven were killed and over a hundred were injured during one of the darkest days in American history.
The divide between sympathy and outrage continued for months. Many labor leaders wanted to move Labor Day to early May in commemoration of the Haymarket Riot, but others disagreed. They feared linking the holiday with the riot would only create more conflict and violence. President Grover Cleveland believed in keeping the September date for this reason, and the holiday was not moved in the United States. Within a few years thirty states officially recognized Labor Day. By 1894, Labor Day became the official federal holiday we celebrate to this day. After World War II, the holiday’s association with the labor union movement gradually faded away.
how should Christians view Labor Day?
So, how should Christians view Labor Day? How should the Church celebrate it? The Christian treatment of all holidays should be an important consideration for us. Remember, God places great value on workers and their labor, both physical and spiritual. Ecclesiastes 2:24 says “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.” In Matthew 9:38, Jesus tells the apostles to “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” And Paul reminds us in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
Yet, it’s not enough for us to be mindful of Labor Day’s history or to be aware of the Biblical View of Work. We should live out these ideas in real and practical ways. May I give you some suggestions? It doesn’t matter if you take vacation or have to work during Labor Day weekend. It’s still a great opportunity to reach people and connect with them. Especially, those who have no choice but to be at work on Labor Day.
Practical Suggestions to Consider
Think of all the people who must work during the holiday. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, police, and firefighters all come to mind. There are numerous other emergency and law enforcement personnel who may also be on call or on duty over Labor Day. What about the employees in all the places you may pass by over the weekend, such as gas stations, stores, shops, and restaurants? Those employees also have to work on Labor Day. There are others to consider as well; perhaps your coworkers or your supervisors and bosses. I’m sure you have family, friends, and neighbors who are required to work.
Let hard working people know that you care, that they are not forgotten or taken for granted, and that they are appreciated by doing a few simple acts of kindness. You probably know many of these people and know a way to call, text, or email them. Of course, the best way may be simply visiting them in person, face to face. What should you say or do? Send them a thoughtful card, drop them a text, give them a call, or send them an email. Giving them food or beverages is another way, who would turn down free refreshments? Maybe a small gift would be appropriate for those you have a close relationship with.
The important thing to remember is to use words and actions, even in simple ways, to touch the lives of people around you. You’d be surprised how people may react to these small gestures! For many people, any acknowledgment and gratitude would be a great blessing. We all need continual proof that our lives and our labors matter.
More importantly, this can open doors for you to share the Gospel. Invite these hard working folks to a Bible study, a church service, or social event. You might be surprised by how many people will come, if you just invite them. At the very least, you are performing pre-evangelism which can lay a foundation for them to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That possibility alone makes it all worth it.