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Labor Day is different around the world

An English Rose in Georgia

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POSTED: September 6, 2012 7:00 a.m.

Having just celebrated my third Labor Day holiday in this wonderful country, it struck me anew how the traditions around holidays and the end of summer in our two great nations really do vary.

For a start, how can you say it is the end of summer when the temperatures are still in the ‘80s and ‘90s? In the United Kingdom, we whoop for joy on the handful of days each year that temperatures reach these great heights. We head for the parks and British beaches and get out the tanning oil.

In fact, in spite of the recent storms in Coastal Georgia, I dare not complain to my English friends and family. With the exception of a few weeks here and there — fortunately, some of these occurred during the Olympics — the British summer of 2012 has been an even-bigger washout than usual. Flooding, rain and low temperatures, largely due to the persistent jet stream that refused to move far enough north, has dominated news reports in the land of my birth. Always remember: If you meet people from Britain, they as a nation are obsessed with the weather, which is the standard opening topic of conversation between strangers.

Secondly, why oh why do we have to stop wearing seersucker and white just when my tan is gold enough to make me happy and it still is sweltering outside? And don’t even ask me to think about giving up my sandals or flip flops until November in our wonderful subtropical climate.

But back to Labor Day. The U.S. always has believed that the greatness of the nation depends on hard, diligent work. In fact, Founding Father Thomas Jefferson said, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

According to www.dol.gov, the first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, but the proposal to move the holiday to the first Monday in September gained momentum throughout the states until Congress passed an act in 1894 making Labor Day a legal holiday. As the website states, “Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.”

In the U.K., we do not celebrate Labor Day in September, and if we did, we would spell labor with a “u.” Although our two nations have a similar number of public holidays, few are the same. To name a couple of differences, America uniquely has Thanksgiving and Memorial Day, while in England we have Good Friday and Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). Only Christmas and New Year’s Day are marked as official public holidays on both countries’ calendars. The British also call public holidays “bank holidays,” as banks traditionally have led the way in closing on days of national celebration. Of course, further confusion is added when you remember that the British call their vacation a “holiday.”

Labor (or labour) is honored on International Workers Day on May 1 in more than 80 countries including the U.K., according to thelanguagejournal.com, although in their typically pragmatic way the British just celebrate the holiday on the Monday nearest to May 1. Unfortunately, May 1 generally is associated in Europe with far left wing or communist demonstrations that are sometimes violent. However, again according to thelanguagejournal.com, the holiday’s May 1 roots are in a northern European Celtic holiday that celebrated the beginning of spring, which in England sometimes only can mean the difference in how warm the rain is!

I hope you enjoyed your Labor Day weekend and returned to work with renewed vigor. Perhaps you might reflect on one of my husband’s favorite quotes by author and famous World War II veteran Sidney J. Phillips: “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

God bless America!

Lesley grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.

 

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