The truth about Labor Day - The Boston Globe
In 1884, when President Grover Cleveland signed the bill making Labor Day a national holiday on the first Monday in September, he and its sponsors intended it not as a celebration of leisure but as a promotion of the great American work ethic. Work, they believed, was the highest calling in life, and Labor Day was a reminder to get back to it. It was placed at the end of summer to declare an end to the season of indolence, and also to distance it from May Day, the spring event that had become a symbol of the radical labor movement.
The day most of us now spend in happy leisure was created to urge Americans to work more, not less. ...
And to understand why is to get a clearer look at an important but little-understood piece of our own history: America’s long civil war over fun.
The philosophical conflict embodied in Labor Day dates to the earliest days of the nation’s history. In 1625, just five years after the first Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, a rival settlement called Merry Mount was founded at the site of present-day Quincy. The inhabitants of Merry Mount shunned Puritanical injunctions and embraced the pleasures of the flesh. They drank great amounts of whiskey and beer and shamelessly fornicated. At the beginning of each May they erected a maypole, a pagan invention that had become the symbol of fun in villages across England, and danced around it with libidinal abandon.
Merry Mount’s population of hedonists grew faster than the godly brethren of the Puritan settlements, threatening to create a new land that looked less like the Puritans’ vision of a pure society and more like their version of hell. So in 1628 the elders in nearby Plymouth Colony sent Captain Myles Standish and a force of men armed with muskets and swords to wipe their competitors from the earth. The Puritan army quickly conquered Merry Mount, arrested its leaders, and chopped down the maypole.