By Mindi Rudan
When Covid seemed to loom everywhere in 2020 and 2021, among the casualties certainly were celebrations, parties, and even the casual backyard get-together. One of the most beloved but under the radar holidays– LABOR DAY comes with the requisite long weekend. It falls perfectly after the “noisier” July 4th holiday and slides right in before the bigger fall and winter holidays — and as the last official holiday of summer, LABOR DAY checks off a lot of boxes on the “Let’s have a party” list.
Yet some people don’t even have a clue why we even recognize Labor Day each year. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t a holiday to pay you back for earning a living. Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers and is traditionally observed on the first Monday in September.
Created by the labor movement in the late 19th century, Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894. But while we enjoy this annual celebration of workers and their achievements, it actually was born during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters.
Think it’s tough today?? In the late 1800s, at the height of the American Industrial Revolution, an “average” American labored 12-hour days with seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, even CHILDREN as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines all across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages.
People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and salvation saving “breaks” just to put a roof over their heads.
When manufacturing started to replace farming as the wellspring of American employment, labor unions, which had first appeared in the late 18th century, grew more significant and vocal. They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest low wages, poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and better pay.
Many of these events sadly turned violent during this period, including the infamous Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which several Chicago policemen and workers were killed. Others like the September 5, 1882 mobilizing of 10,000 workers who took precious unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding what became the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.
It was then that the idea of a “workingmen’s holiday,” celebrated on the first Monday in September, caught on in other industrial centers across our country, and many states passed legislation recognizing it. Congress would not actually legalize Labor Day as an “official” holiday until 12 years later when a watershed moment in American labor history brought workers’ rights squarely into the public’s view when employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives thus securing the right to fair working conditions for generations of American workers from that event forward.
And while the intent behind the holiday is much loftier, Labor Day weekend for most of us these days simply symbolizes the end of the lazy, hazy days of summer. It’s celebrated with casual parties, backyard barbecues, street parades and sporting events.
Actually one of MY favorites–it’s not pretentious; it’s usually a laid back easy excuse to fire up some hot coals, assemble some cold drinks (and a DIY adult beverage bar), casually invite some friends and just party!
But Labor Day celebrating need not be laborious!!
Mostly it’s a perfect excuse for some fun (but easy) sides, burgers, hot dogs, cool salads and food that truth be told need only be delicious, not fancy for everyone to have the best time.
The key is not to overthink it and spend days shopping, prepping and FRETTING. THAT’S TOO MUCH LABOR!!
One of the easiest and sometimes most delicious and varied ways to host this kind of party is to invite everyone and ask each invitee to bring a dish (or bottle of wine or??) to share. You as host provide just the party supplies: cups, napkins, utensils & plates, ice & mixers, maybe wine and beer. Or you can ask guests to bring food and/or libation —then you provide the “main”: hamburgers, hot dogs and condiments and rolls and just keep track of who is bringing what to avoid dupes.
This kind of event is often so much less stress, the food choices are incredible since no one shade all the food responsibilities—guests just have one item to think about AND you as the host don’t have to worry about 10 different food items. Then at the end, they take the dish they brought home, so even clean up is easier!
I like to make one easy but delicious appetizer, or salad—we do the main and with everyone bringing the sides I have the time to make the tables “pretty!” Then I make one of the desserts.
Here are two of my easy go to recipes:
This appetizer is so ridiculously easy but everyone just keeps eating it. I get a beautiful assortment of good crackers like Mary’s. Sometimes I cut a baguette on the diagonal and lightly toast. Then I take a simple block of PHILADELPHIA cream cheese and a jar of raspberry pepper jelly — I center the cream cheese on a pretty platter, arrange everything in big groups, then I “spill” some jelly over the top after it’s arranged on letting some of the jelly drip down sides. I add a nice butter server and as nuts as it sounds —people hover over it!
My easy go to dessert for brunch or casual gatherings like this is a quick chocolate croissant! A box of puff pastry, chocolate chips, cream cheese, a few additions and you cannot believe how scrumptious this is! And you can assemble the day before on sheet pans and pop in oven when last of burgers have just come off the grill!
My take on chocolate croissants
1/2 cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature (sometimes use more)
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup either: mini chocolate chips (any kind on hand. Last time I made I had little bits of two kinds of chunks. I smacked with a hammer and they were perfect!)
2 (9-inch-square) sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten
Whatever gathering you decide on, it’s taken me a lifetime of trying to be perfect to learn a valuable lesson: People barely care if you kill yourself home-cooking everything or if you order it, what they care about is to have YOU present at the event to make memories, share laughs and not kill yourself so you can invite them again!
Mindi Rudan is the former publisher of Parkland Life, BocaDelray Life and Coconut Creek Life Magazines. She has been writing over professionally over 30 years. Presently she is “retired” (ha!) and has reinvented herself (yet again) as a “wreath maker” making handcrafted custom pieces for anyone who will let her.
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