Current Events

Labor Day and the Private College

Happy Labor Day!

My colleagues and I are celebrating… work.  Like many private colleges and universities, Centre is open on Labor Day.  Some people are surprised to discover that institutions like ours aren’t closed because it is a national holiday.

Labor Day IS a national holiday, but that doesn’t mean that private companies or college have to close.  Think about Presidents’ Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, or Veterans’ Day all of which are working holidays for white collar jobs.

Centre and other private institutions hold classes on Labor Day in large part to maintain the class calendar.  If we cancelled for the holiday we would have to make a choice to lose a day of fall break or Thanksgiving break.  There is also the idea that continuity is important in the first weeks of class; this is especially true for first years who are encouraged to stay on campus and stay busy during their first weeks of college.

Why, then, are folks so surprised that Centre students have class on Labor Day? Partly, this is because the public school systems take the holiday off and it is surprising that teachers have to teach on Labor Day.  Americans also make some interesting assumptions about working on Labor Day; we assume that stores will be open for our pleasure and that offices will be closed.

Modern Americans often bemoan the lack of attention to holidays like Labor Day.  Yet, when faced when changing our calendars and making more holiday time, we balk.  Centre, like many other schools, has sacrificed this holiday for the good of celebrating Thanksgiving and Fall Break well.  This choice says something about our values as an institution, but those who are sitting at home enjoying their holiday shouldn’t feel too smug.  Few people, I venture to guess, are out marching for the rights of workers. The values that most Americans attach to this holiday today are more about family and friends than the plight of wage laborers.

This isn’t a new phenomenon either.  Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 but it was never a holiday that was widely celebrated in a consistent manner by people from all classes.  Labor Day has an interesting history.  I’ll have to share it with you next year.  Today, I have to work!


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