Labor Day Lesson for Kids: Meaning & History

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

Labor Day is a holiday celebrated every year in September in the United States. This lesson will teach you about Labor Day, how it started, what it celebrates, why it is in September every year, and some other interesting facts about this holiday.

What is Labor Day?

Imagine you are standing on a street corner and everyone is excited and cheering. Marching bands go by, American flags are everywhere, and groups of people from different business wave as they march down the street. Later, you'll grill hamburgers and hot dogs in the backyard. You are celebrating Labor Day!

Labor Day is a holiday in the U.S. that celebrates the hard work and accomplishments of workers in America and how they helped make our country strong and successful.

How Labor Day Started

In the 1800s, many people worked very long hours in unsafe factories or mines and didn't make much money. Even young children about your age worked all day in these places and made even less money than the adults. Their job was much harder and more dangerous than the chores you do today, like cleaning your room and taking out the trash.

These workers joined unions, which were organized groups of workers created to look out for their members. Sometimes the union workers would hold marches and protests to complain about the bad conditions in which they worked and the low pay they received.

Labor Day parade, 1882
Labor Day parade, 1882

On September 5, 1882, union workers from many different trades, or kinds of jobs, took a day off and lost a day's pay to march in New York City to demand better pay, fewer hours, and safer working conditions.

Many stayed after the march to have a picnic and enjoy their day off with other families in the park where the march ended. This became the first unofficial Labor Day parade.

Labor Day Becomes an Official Holiday

This celebration of workers became more popular in other parts of the United States every year. In 1887, Oregon was the first state to pass a law making Labor Day a holiday.

Just like playing 'follow the leader', other states like Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York also began passing laws in 1887 recognizing Labor Day as a holiday.

In 1894, Congress passed an act that made Labor Day a national holiday that would be held on the first Monday of September every year to celebrate American workers. Some say the September date was chosen because it falls between the 4th of July and Thanksgiving, though the day itself wasn't chosen for any special reason.

1960 Labor Day parade
1960 Labor Day parade

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