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Labor Day 2021: History, meaning, and what to expect traveling during holiday weekend

Labor Day Weekend is happening a week later than normal because of the 2021 calendar, but that doesn’t mean it will be celebrated any differently as families work to get in last-minute summer travel and visit loved ones across the U.S.

As we explore the history, meaning, and best practices for Labor Day 2021 – keep in mind that local restrictions vary by community, so check ahead if you’re doing any travel this weekend.

History of Labor Day

The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 in New York City. It became a federal holiday two years later in 1894. It’s a tribute to the achievements and progress of American workers. While it was celebrated for the first time on a Tuesday – it’s now celebrated on Monday.

The concept was dreamed up by Peter McGuire, a labor union leader. It was part of his idea to honor American workers, who were driving the U.S. economy forward.

What does Labor Day mean now?

The meaning and integrity of Labor Day has withstood more than a century of changes to work life in the U.S. When the holiday was originated – the average American worked 12-hour days and did so 7-days a week. Children also worked at the time, and in some cases, under difficult circumstances.

The holiday itself is born out of the idea that a holiday should be dedicated to the ‘working person’. Labor unions have played a massive role in the U.S., and continue to do so today.

How to celebrate Labor Day?

While travel and leisure dominate the holiday now, with its prominence as the last opportunity for families to get out and spend time with loved ones before summer ends – the coronavirus pandemic has made celebrating a little different.

Some families are dialing back plans in 2021 – much like 2020 – despite there being effective vaccines at preventing serious illness from COVID-19. This has been driven by the fact that large portions of the U.S. remain unvaccinated – despite continued messaging and employer mandates to get inoculated in the coming weeks.

Schools starting earlier has also played a role in how Labor Day changed across the U.S. The American Automobile Association or AAA says that it’s changed a lot over the last few decades.

“The Labor Day holiday of years ago has changed, especially with so many schools starting earlier now,” a spokesperson for AAA said. “In that case, we can say that Thursday and Friday afternoons from 3 to 6 p.m. will probably be the busiest times on the roads for most travelers, as holiday getaway traffic mingles with commuter traffic around many metropolitan areas,” AAA explained. “This summer has been a very robust one for travel, especially by car and we do not expect that to change very much.”

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