The last hurrah for family summer fun and unofficial start to the school year for many kids is the first weekend of September: Labor Day weekend. An annual tribute to the contributions American workers have made to our well-being as a nation, Labor Day is held in honor of all working people on the first Monday of every September. The history of this holiday, which nowadays is more often marked by weekend beach trips, retail sales and barbecues than by the speeches and parades of early Labor Day celebrations, is one of an abundance of unfair labor practices in the mid- to late-19th Century, and the organized actions of labor unions in response.
The Origins of Labor Day
It wasn’t easy to be a worker in the late 1800s. Many Americans worked 12 hours or more each day, often 7 days per week, and conditions in factories, mines and elsewhere were frequently unsafe and unregulated. Up to 20% of the workforce during this period was made up of children, and child labor laws, too, were few and far between. In early September of 1882, the nation’s first labor demonstration – later considered by many to be the first Labor Day – occurred when a parade of 10,000 workers marched on strike from New York City’s City Hall to a neighborhood park, risking their employment by protesting long hours of work and the use of convict labor. “Less Work and More Pay!” was their slogan, and although the parade was a peaceful one, it was the first real organized act of a trade union to protest working conditions in the name of labor and labor organizations.
In June of 1984, with 31 states already unofficially celebrating the day of commemoration, Congress declared the day a federal holiday, intending it to be a day not only filled with street parades and speeches designed to show appreciation for the work of trade organizations and labor unions, but also a time of festivals and picnics to entertain laborers and their families. Although other nations worldwide by this time were celebrating their own labor-related holidays, typically on May 1st (May Day, or International Workers’ Day), the U.S. Congress specifically chose the first Monday of September in order to bridge the long gap between Independence Day and Thanksgiving holidays.
North Carolina Fairs & Festivals
Although you might not have felt that first chill of fall air by the time Labor Day rolls around in just a week or two, unofficially the weekend marks the beginning of autumn. Many individuals take advantage of the rare 3-day weekend to get away to the beach or mountains or to seek out fun events as a of nod to the end of summer. Check out one or two of these annual food, music and end-of-summer craft fairs for yourself.
- Beech Mountain’s very family-friendly Mile High Kite & Craft Festival takes place in the town’s wide-open meadow, with prizes awarded for biggest, smallest and most decorated kites. Other fun activities include scenic chairlift rides and a popular all-ages-allowed street dance that evening.
- The town of Oxford this year hosts the 13th Annual North Carolina Hot Sauce Contest & Festival in celebration of the state’s very own hot sauces and barbecue sauces, local breweries and wineries, and live local bands, turning the downtown area into one large zone of fun and activity. 15,000 visitors converge on the town to taste and rate over 200 vendors, all vying for the coveted title of “Hottest Sauce in North Carolina.”
- Visitors enjoy arts and crafts, kids’ activities, live music and more on historic Main Street of Hendersonville for the 4-day annual North Carolina Apple Festival.
- A perfect Labor Day weekend for some is nothing without some great entertainment in the form of music and dance, and Lenoir’s 15th Annual Happy Valley Fiddlers’ Convention at Jones Farm in Happy Valley will be packed with music contests, hayrides, and children’s crafts as well as folk, blues, and gospel concerts, all in the spectacular natural setting of the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills.
- A full schedule of Labor Day weekend activities at Charlotte’s Labor Day Celebration at U.S. National Whitewater Center includes a triathlon, yoga and climbing competitions, trail races, concerts and fireworks. The Center itself will be fully open, and guests will be able to enjoy rafting, rope courses, zip lining and the ever-popular Pump House Biergarten, with over 60 craft brews on tap.
- Oak Island’s Labor Day Surf Off at the Ocean Crest Pier is a day of sun and fun surf and body board competition, suitable for individuals of all ages, skill levels and physical capabilities. If hanging ten or watching others hang ten isn’t your thing, the competitive cornhole tournament just might be.
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