8 Facts About Labor Day

Sviatlana Barchan/iStock via Getty Images
Sviatlana Barchan/iStock via Getty Images

For more than 125 years, Americans have celebrated Labor Day on the first Monday of every September, but the origins of this holiday have been somewhat lost to time. Now it's seen as the unofficial end of summer (and hot dog season), the dreaded return to school for kids across the country, and a time to score a great deal on a mattress. But with more than a century of history to sift through, you'd be forgiven for not knowing about the holiday's roots. So from the true story of its beginnings, to the final word on whether or not you can wear white afterward, here are eight facts about Labor Day.

1. The first Labor Day parade was held in New York City in 1882.

If you were a factory worker in the 1880s, you were probably toiling away at your job for an average of 60 hours a week, and it wasn't unheard of for textile laborers in New York to make only 75 cents a day, which was a paltry sum, even for the time. To bring attention to these unfair working conditions, labor organizers coordinated the first Labor Day parade on Tuesday, September 5, 1882.

Close to 10,000 people attended the parade, according to a New York Times article published on September 6, 1882. Marchers carried signs bearing slogans like “Eight Hours for a Legal Day’s Work” and “Less Hours and More Pay.” The New York Times called the demonstration “pleasant” and “orderly,” although it noted that the parade’s organizers expected closer to 30,000 or 40,000 laborers to show up and support the march.

2. The Origins of Labor Day are still disputed.

Historians often credit Peter J. McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, as the first to propose a holiday celebrating workers. According to the modern-day American Federation of Labor, McGuire brought up the idea in an 1882 meeting of the New York Central Labor Union, saying that workers should lead a parade to “publicly show the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”

But researchers from the New Jersey Historical Society suggest the true founder may have been someone else with a very similar name: Matthew Maguire, a machinist from New Jersey who led several strikes in the 1870s, and by 1882 had become the secretary for the New York Central Labor Union. In an 1894 editorial about the holiday, which President Grover Cleveland had just signed into law, a New Jersey newspaper said the honor should go to Maguire, the “undisputed author of Labor Day as a holiday.”

However, some historians suggest that labor organizers may have deliberately tried to cloud Maguire’s association with Labor Day’s origins, concerned that the holiday might become associated with his “radical” politics (he was a member of the Socialist Labor Party).

3. There’s a reason Americans celebrate Labor Day over May Day.

On May 1, 1886, 35,000 workers went on strike in Chicago as part of a larger organized labor protest across the country. For the first two days, the protests and demonstrations were peaceful, but by May 3, violence broke out between laborers and police during a protest at Chicago's McCormick Reaper Works factory, leaving several workers wounded or dead. The incident encouraged anarchist labor leaders to call for another protest the following day in Haymarket Square, where violence broke out again after police attempted to disband the crowd. At that point, an anonymous individual threw a bomb at the police, killing one officer at the scene. The police retaliated, and when all was said and done, seven officers and (at least) one civilian were killed in the chaos, and plenty more in the crowd were injured.

Following the riot, police arrested eight anarchist leaders on charges of conspiracy. Seven of the eight were convicted of murder and sentenced to death, despite the fact that six of the defendants weren’t even in Haymarket Square at the time the bomb was thrown. At the Second International Socialist Conference in 1889, members voted to celebrate May 1 as International Workers’ Day, often referred to as May Day, to commemorate the Haymarket affair. President Cleveland wanted to avoid the socialist and anarchist connotations of May Day, so when he established a holiday to celebrate America's workers, he chose the first Monday in September, calling back to previous traditions from New York's labor movement.

4. Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day an official holiday.

In 1887, Oregon became the first state to celebrate Labor Day as a legal holiday. In 1894, the rest of the United States followed suit when President Cleveland signed the holiday into law after political pressure created by his suppression of the Pullman Strike. Cleveland, aware that he needed to appease the labor movement, pressed for nationwide recognition of the first Monday in September as Labor Day.

5. Canada’s Labour Day is also celebrated on the first Monday of September.

Prime Minister John Thompson signed Labour Day into law in 1894, the same year Cleveland declared it a national holiday in the United States. Many labor unions that held successful events in the United States, like the Knights of Labor, also had branches in Canada. Thompson was similarly motivated by mounting political pressure from labor activists, who organized several strikes to demand a nine-hour workday.

6. People once tried to make “Labor Sunday” a thing.

In 1909, the American Federation of Labor declared the Sunday before Labor Day “Labor Sunday”—an opportunity to reflect on the spiritual and educational parts of the labor movement. It never really took off among the general public, but some churches and religious organizations acknowledge the holiday during Sunday services.

7. There’s no good reason why you shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day.

You can ignore that age-old myth that you shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day—there’s nothing wrong with it, most fashion moguls say, and the “rule” has always been rather arbitrary. Instead, you should “wear what’s appropriate,” the Emily Post Institute says, “for the weather, the season, or the occasion.”

8. Labor Day is a dangerous day to be on the road.

Because so many people travel during Labor Day weekend (over 35 million, according to a AAA study), roads tend to be much more crowded—and because of that, they're more dangerous. According to data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, the U.S. saw an average of 308 fatal car accidents per year during Labor Day weekends from 2011 to 2015. That’s second only to the average number of fatal accidents seen during Memorial Day weekend (approximately 312 per year).

8 Adorable Products You Can Buy for International Sloth Day

Good Luck Socks/Intelex via Amazon
Good Luck Socks/Intelex via Amazon

It’s that time of the year again, folks—the time when we all collectively lose our chill over a slow-moving, two- or three-toed mammal with an adorable squeak and poop that defies physics. That’s right: International Sloth Day is coming on October 20. Here’s a list of must-have coloring books, onesies, and Christmas sweaters that you can pick up to showcase your love of one of the internet's favorite animals.

1. Cuddly Microwaveable Sloth; $23

Microwavable sloth for International Sloth Day.
Intelex/Amazon

Warm your heart and your body with a plush sloth that doubles as a soothing heating pad. The toy is filled with millet grains and dried French lavender, a combination intended to help you get to sleep easier.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Hanging Ceramic Sloth Planter; $19

FattyBee Ceramic Sloth Planter.
FattyBee/Amazon

This flower planter pulls double duty, communicating both your love of sloths and your appreciation for plants. And it makes a tasteful piece of hanging home decor, too.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Sloth Coloring Book; $7

Sloth Coloring Book on Amazon.
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform/Amazon

Sloths themselves are already works of art, but you’d be forgiven for wanting a few more sloth-related crafts in your life. Now you can make your own masterpiece with this detailed coloring book. All you'll need are some colored pencils and you'll be ready to go.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Farting Sloth Coloring Book; $7

Sloth Farts Coloring Book on Amazon.
M & L Coloring Books/Amazon

But maybe traditional coloring books aren’t your thing. You’re in luck: Amazon sells a coloring book for the crowd that both loves sloths and laughs a little too much at farts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Sloth Socks; $14

Sloth Socks on Amazon.
Good Luck Socks/Amazon

These socks are ideal for people who might not want to wear their love of sloths out in the open but are very comfortable showing it off on their ankles.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Sloth Onesie; $60

Tipsy Elves Sloth Onesie on Amazon.
Tipsy Elves/Amazon

No list of sloth-related products would be complete without a cozy onesie, and this one from Tipsy Elves is perfect for either pajamas or a last-minute Halloween costume. This onesie even comes with zippered pockets and cuddly sloth claws!

Buy it: Amazon

7. Sloth-Themed Ugly Christmas Sweater; $45


Tipsy Elves/Amazon

Why not celebrate the upcoming holiday season with this sloth-themed ugly Christmas sweater? You’re sure to be the hit of any holiday pub crawl or office Christmas party.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Sloth Mug; $13


Mika Mugs/Amazon

Really, what says it better than this mug? You just really freaking love sloths, and there’s nothing wrong with that, so be sure to declare your feelings along with your morning cup of coffee.

Buy it: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

Why Do We Eat Candy on Halloween?

Jupiterimages/iStock via Getty Images
Jupiterimages/iStock via Getty Images

On October 31, hordes of children armed with Jack-o'-lantern-shaped buckets and pillow cases will take to the streets in search of sugar. Trick-or-treating for candy is synonymous with Halloween, but the tradition had to go through a centuries-long evolution to arrive at the place it is today. So how did the holiday become an opportunity for kids to get free sweets? You can blame pagans, Catholics, and candy companies.

Historians agree that a Celtic autumn festival called Samhain was the precursor to modern Halloween. Samhain was a time to celebrate the last harvest of the year and the approach of the winter season. It was also a festival for honoring the dead. One way Celtics may have appeased the spirits they believed still walked the Earth was by leaving treats on their doorsteps.

When Catholics infiltrated Ireland in the 1st century CE, they rebranded many pagan holidays to fit their religion. November 1 became the “feasts of All Saints and All Souls," and the day before it was dubbed "All-Hallows'-Eve." The new holidays looked a lot different from the original Celtic festival, but many traditions stuck around, including the practice of honoring the dead with food. The food of choice for Christians became "soul cakes," small pastries usually baked with expensive ingredients and spices like currants and saffron.

Instead of leaving them outside for passing ghosts, soul cakes were distributed to beggars who went door-to-door promising to pray for souls of the deceased in exchange for something to eat. Sometimes they wore costumes to honor the saints—something pagans originally did to avoid being harassed by evil spirits. The ritual, known as souling, is believed to have planted the seeds for modern-day trick-or-treating.

Souling didn't survive the holiday's migration from Europe to the United States. In America, the first Halloween celebrations were a way to mark the end-of-year harvest season, and the food that was served mainly consisted of homemade seasonal treats like caramel apples and mixed nuts. There were no soul cakes—or candies, for that matter—to be found.

It wasn't until the 1950s that trick-or-treating gained popularity in the U.S. Following the Great Depression and World War II, the suburbs were booming, and people were looking for excuses to have fun and get to know their neighbors. The old practice of souling was resurrected and made into an excuse for kids to dress up in costumes and roam their neighborhoods. Common trick-or-treat offerings included nuts, coins, and homemade baked goods ("treats" that most kids would turn their noses up at today).

That changed when the candy companies got their hands on the holiday. They had already convinced consumers that they needed candy on Christmas and Easter, and they were looking for an equally lucrative opportunity to market candy in the fall. The new practice of trick-or-treating was almost too good to be true. Manufacturers downsized candies into smaller, bite-sized packages and began marketing them as treats for Halloween. Adults were grateful to have a convenient alternative to baking, kids loved the sweet treats, and the candy companies made billions.

Today, it's hard to imagine Halloween without Skittles, chocolate bars, and the perennial candy corn debates. But when you're digging through a bag or bowl of Halloween candy this October, remember that you could have been having eating soul cakes instead.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER