One of the many pleasures of hosting the four Interns studying our Orff program at school is getting their fresh perspectives on both the school and the city. And American culture. Our Intern from China asked me yesterday, “What is Labor Day?” and usually quick to answer any question, I had to pause. “Hmm. Well, I think it must be to honor the working people of the country, but truth be told, there are no rituals, ceremonies, parades or such that I know of that help us all be more aware that we should constantly thank the steelworkers, farmers, truck drivers, factory workers and such that make it possible for us to drive a car to the grocery store and cook with pots and pans. And I know May 1st is International Worker’s Day, so I’m not sure why we have two such holidays (though only Labor Day is a national holiday with the day off). Mostly Labor Day means it’s the end of summer and school is beginning. Well, it used to be until schools started earlier and earlier in August—including my own. It theoretically could also be thanking our mothers who endured a painful labor to give birth to us, but that’s reserved for Mother’s Day.”
In short, I was faking it and later, had to go to the old reliable Wikipedia to get the real story. It made me wonder how many holidays we celebrate with little or no idea what it’s about. Wouldn’t it be good to review the real story of Columbus? (And then wonder, “Why are we celebrating this brutal, brutal man and his legacy of white supremacy?") How many know the origins of Halloween? Again, shall we reflect on the real deal with Thanksgiving and learn Squanto’s actual story? How many kids these days really know what Christmas purports to celebrate beyond the pagan act of decorating trees and kissing under mistletoe and a jolly fat man buying us Nintento XII? And what’s the Easter bunny have to do with Pontius Pilate? 4thof July? Shall we re-read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? And so on.
The Labor Day story is actually quite revealing— a drama about greedy industrialists exploiting men, women and children and the patriotic folks who resisted. It’s a story worthy telling and why not introduce children—and adults—to Mother Jones, Eugene Debs and more?
And so, instead of me re-retelling the story here, your homework is just a Google click away. Be prepared for the moment when someone asks you—“What is Labor Day, anyway?”
And there will be a test.