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For Labor Day and Its Counterparts

This past week we celebrated another national holiday, Labor Day.

Three months ago around Memorial Day I meant to look up the exact definitions for three similar sounding holidays: Veterans, Memorial, and Labor Day.

Its not that I am against having off on these Federal holidays but I feel it is wrong to allow my ignorance to continue through another season.

Veterans Day is the most important to me out of these three. I feel that the reason for this day could not be more obvious or necessary. We live in a land that guarantees us many freedoms we are privileged enough to ignore on a daily basis. Those men and women as well as their families sacrifice an awful lot so they deserve a day of praise. Actually they probably deserve an entire year dedicated solely to them.

My fondness of Veterans Day ( has to due with a personal story. My uncle is a veteran of the Vietnam War and recently he has honored me by sharing his story from the time he was drafted until the day he returned home. It was an intense yet enlightening experience for me.

The establishment of Veterans Day traces its history back to the end of World War I. It was officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed despite the fact that fighting had already ended. The official term is armistice, which is the original name for Veterans Day. Armistice Day began “on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” The following year, 1919, was the very first official Armistice Day celebration.

On May 13, 1938 Congress made November 11th a national holiday no matter what day it falls on each year. At that time the holiday was still known as Armistice Day. It is not until 1954 when President Eisenhower signed legislation legally changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Now Veterans Day would be to honor the veterans of ALL wars.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. It is a date created to remember those that have died in the line of military duty. I found it fascinating that this day of remembrance was born about from the Civil War. The name Decoration Day was fitting, as it was not to celebrate any one person or battle. On that first Decoration Day General James Garfield held a ceremony at Arlington National Ceremony in Virginia honoring the twenty thousand troops (on both sides) buried there.

Similar to the story of Samuel Wilson and his hometown of Troy, New York (see previous blog) Memorial Day too triggers several towns claiming to be the one where this holiday was originated. Officially Waterloo, New York wins this title from President Lyndon Johnson in 1966, however I couldn’t find out the reasoning behind it.  Congress passed the National Holiday Act of 1971 claiming the last Monday every year as Memorial Day.

Labor Day however was an idea much earlier in our country’s timeline. During the late 1880s the notion of having a so-called Labor Day was being tossed around. Though the inventor is not clearly known, what we know for sure is that the first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882 by the Central Labor Union in New York City. After the 1883 festival, this holiday began an annual tradition gaining more and more traction each year.

It would be during these years that each state would sign on and begin declaring their own Labor Days. These days were meant to be spent attending parades and festivities with the workers and their families. That is why having off on this day was so important to the celebration.

From that day to this, this annual holiday honors the workers who make this country great, thus it is no surprise a union was behind its passage.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

“The Uniform Holiday Bill was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to ensure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production.”

After diving deeper into the individual stories of these holidays I have a greater understanding and appreciation of each one. I like knowing how far back they can be traced and what their original intent was. Going forward I will always have this information on my mind when the time rolls around.

Veterans, Memorial, and Labor Days are each special in its own right. They provide us time in our busy lives to stop and remember those in the past who created our future. The extraordinary events that inspired these holidays should always be apart of our annual celebrations.

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