Everyone enjoys the long weekend. In between “first day on the job” and “retirement,” there are plenty of long weekends to help break up the work year. Here in America we can count on Christmas, New Years Day, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Labor Day and July 4th to guarantee not to work (we hope). There are a smattering of other holidays like Columbus Day, Presidents Day and MLK Day when we might also have a day off. If you work at a federal or state job, then you’ve hit the lottery in terms of three-day weekends. How did all these long weekends get started? Here’s how:
Since its inception, Memorial Day has always been about honoring our active duty, retired veterans and fallen troops. What you might not know is that the first fallen troops to get this day of remembrance were the soldiers of the Civil War. That war resulted in more American casualties than any other war in our history. Every town was affected. Soon after the war, the many towns would hold springtime days of remembrance. This evolved into Decoration Day where folks would spend time at the cemeteries taking care of the final resting place for the veterans. After WWI, the day morphed into honoring all fallen service personal. For decades, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30th no matter what day of the week that was. It wasn’t until 1971 when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act came into effect and designated the last Monday in May as Memorial Day. Thus it is.
July 4th or Independence Day has been celebrated since we became an official nation. As OFF (original founding father) John Adam wrote to wife Abigail, this would be a day that “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary festival and that the celebration should include pomp and parade…games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this Continent to the other.” The only problem was John Adams wanted July 2nd to be our Independence Day. That was when the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. They didn’t actually get around to signing the document until 2 days later. In fact, years later John Adams would turn down July 4th celebration invitations out of protest. Ironically, he died on July 4th, 1826… same day as Thomas Jefferson.
If ever there was a three-day weekend formed from anger, then it is Labor Day. Back in the latter years of the 1800s, the average worker clocked in 12 hours a day. Kids as young as five were employed in sweatshops. In an effort to improve work conditions and pay, 10,000 workers took off from work on September 5, 1882 to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City. This was the first official Labor Day parade. Each year on the first Monday in Septembers, workers continued to take off. Then in 1894, a strike against the Pullman Palace Railroad Company resulted in violent riots and the death of dozens of works. To mend fences, Congress established Labor Day as an official holiday where workers could have the day off but still get paid. Today, Labor Day signifies that summer is over and it’s time to go back to school. Talk about a depressing holiday.