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The least laboring of days

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Hey, it’s Labor Day, everybody. Woo-hoo. OK, we’re partying now. Throw your arms in the air and wave them like you just don’t care. Blow up some balloons. Tap a keg. Rip open a bag of chips. Because this isn’t a champagne and caviar kind of thing. This is the very definition of blue collar. If collars be worn at all.

It was 1894 when Labor Day first punched into work. Grover Cleveland signed it into law six days after the end of the Pullman Strike, during which federal troops killed more than 30 strikers. Cynics saw it as a kind of make-up kiss between the government and the American worker. Well, flowers and candy anyhow.

The first Monday of September was specifically picked to bridge the long holiday gap between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, and to get as far away from May Day as possible. In the late 19th century, labor unions were one thing, but Communists were a horse of a different color.

For 120 years, Labor Day has been the red-headed stepchild of holidays.

Goldilocks would have loved Labor Day. Not too hot. Not too cold. Less incendiary than Easter and Christmas, but with a decidedly higher thermal print than the International Talk Like a Pirate Day, fast approaching Sept. 19.

Because of Labor Day’s peculiar calendar placement, it has morphed into not so much a celebration as a seasonal signal flag. Here lies the tired, dried-up body of summer. Time to roll up the garden hose and recharge the snow blower.

The lazy, hazy days are over and school and football have kicked off. Meanwhile, the significance of what we’re commemorating has gotten lost in a last-gasp blast of beer, baseball and barbecue.

Labor Day is meant to be a day we set aside to honor not the dead, but the living. Our workforce. One single day off so the real nine-to-five heroes that keep this country humming can hang with their families and friends before squaring their shoulders and getting back to the job of earning a living and carving out the future.

It’s a day to catch our breath. To celebrate the contributions of all of America’s working folk. From the floor of the stock exchange to the stockroom of Amazon. And no need to bring gifts, although that whole flowers-and-candy thing is never a bad idea.

• Will Durst is a political comedian who has performed around the world.

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