American History Equals PTO

It’s a long weekend, y’all! (Okay, that was awful, please forgive me…)

It’s Labor Day weekend. Are you doing anything special this Saturday, Sunday, Monday? For many if not all of you, Labor Day means a day home from work. A day for shutting off your alarm and sleeping in until noon (or is that just me?). A day for catching up on household chores and necessary errands. A time for sitting with your loved ones around the dinner table and reflecting on what this day truly means.

Which is…


Come on, I can’t be the only person who didn’t know exactly what Labor Day means. It’s a day of non-labor, a day of rest, a day of PTO. That’s cause enough to celebrate, right? But seriously, as I was making my weekend plans I realized I honestly had no real idea what Labor Day celebrates. Luckily I live in a technologically-advanced era and was able to head to my handy-dandy-notebook (Google) to find the answer.

Did you know that Labor Day is a tribute to you, an American worker? Labor Day is defined as a day to celebrate “the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country?” Starting in 1887 and fully adopted by Congress in 1894, the first Monday of September became a legal holiday and apparently has its own controversial background. In my internet searches, I came across a survey asking me who I believe to be the real Father of Labor Day. The debate apparently goes between Peter J. McGuire, a carpenter, and Matthew Maguire, a machinist, and apparently no one can agree so both are often given some sort of credit. This debate has led to a multitude of arguments and some truly beautiful works of art, like the boxing GIF below (which leads me to favor McGuire, as his head movement and counterattack were executed quite beautifully, although Macguire’s aggressiveness is admirable).


In its beginnings, Labor Day was often celebrated with a public parade and festival, accompanied by speeches from prominent figures. As time passed the celebrations lessened, often due to regulations regarding large parties and parades that could potentially disrupt the area, leading to now: a time where, at least to my knowledge, Labor Day is simply celebrated by not going to work. I don’t know if you’d say it’s ironic—a day celebrating workers where no workers actually get any work done (don’t give me that look, small business owners and entrepreneurs, I know Labor Day is just another Monday to you)—but I think spending a moment to reflect upon the day’s history just might make your day-at-home a little sweeter. After all, I couldn’t have said it any better myself than this:

“It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”




So this week’s Coastal Comments was supposed to end here… But then I started thinking.

Now that we’re on the subject, I realize I have a lot of questions about these types of holidays in general. Did you know that I had to search, “Why do we celebrate certain holidays in the United States?” because I couldn’t remember what we call things like Labor Day? It’s federal holidays, by the way. You’re welcome.

Honestly, though, there are so many holidays that we observe where kids get to stay home from school and adults get to gripe about the bank being closed, but why? I can’t be in the minority of people who “celebrate” these holidays without truly knowing what they mean, right? If I am, humor me for a second, will ya?

It turns out our federal holidays celebrate pivotal moments in our country’s history. Which goes to show just how well I paid attention in History class, which is funny considering I was in an AP class because supposedly I impressed my teacher enough to be placed on the fast track, which is even funnier because I hated history. Dates. Can’t remember them for my life. No idea why I agreed to change classes. But then again I did get to spend a day role-playing as Dorothea Dix, the pioneer for the insane, so maybe it wasn’t all bad. But then again, I digress…

dorothea dix
Dorothea Dix / Author, Teacher & Reformer

So we have these holidays to help us celebrate our amazing country, and reflect on the journey we took to become who we are today. We might have our issues, and we definitely have a few blips on our past record, and there’s no promising our future will be perfect, but in the end I’m pretty sure most of us enjoy living in this country. And we could all benefit from a few days a year dedicated to celebrating our country’s past; that is, if we know what we are celebrating.

In an effort to gain a little knowledge for myself—because I strongly follow the belief that you should learn something new every day—and to help share this knowledge with you, my Coastal Comments reader, I did a little digging and came up with this convenient list to remind you that our American history doesn’t only equal paid time off.



Your Quick & Dirty List of Federal Holidays*

A Couple of Honorable Mentions


The fun** doesn’t even stop here!

Did you know that some states celebrate different holidays? Always aiming to be different, California apparently has a “different definition” for state vs. legal holidays—Columbus Day is seen as a legal holiday instead of a state holiday, although that arguably contemptible holiday is up to much debate, anyway, and is a topic for a much different blog posting. California also added Cesar Chavez day on March 31, even though that holiday is not officially*** observed in San Francisco, Berkley, or West Hollywood. But, if you head to West Hollywood on May 22 you can celebrate Harvey Milk Day, instead. California is also the home to California Admission Day, an aptly named holiday that falls on September 9 and celebrates the date California officially became a piece of the United States as the 31st state in 1850.

The observance of state-specific holidays is not just a Californian trend. Perry County, Alabama, celebrates Obama Day on the 2nd Monday in November; Florida has Susan B. Anthony Day on February 15 (although apologies, Florida employees, Susan apparently did not warrant a paid holiday); Illinois observes Casimir Pulaski Day on the 1st Monday in March; King Kamehameha Day—yes, you read that right, and no this isn’t Dragon Ball Z this is an actual piece of history—is celebrated on the Hawaiian islands each June 11; and, my personal favorite, Family Day is honored in both Arizona and Nevada (as well as South Africa, a few Canadian provinces, Vietnam, Australia…) as a day to “enable workers to take a break from their hectic work and to spend some quality time with their family and friends.” Really, what other use is there for a holiday? I can think of no greater cause to celebrate.

Well, except for the history of our country.


*Religious holidays not mentioned

**Are you having fun? Or is it just me?

***By officially I mean that the Wikipedia article said so… So, who knows, really?

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