Billy and I have trafficked in a lot of of opinions during our years here. This, though, is a simple fact:
If you don't treat a holiday like it is a holiday, then it isn't.
Take Labor Day. Kind of a bland, take the day off kind of a day, but that doesn't make it a holiday. That makes it a day off. What makes it a holiday is doing something special to celebrate it, like:
1. Cook special food.
2. Have people over.
3. Talk to people for whom the holiday was designed.
4. Plan and execute events.
5. Reminisce about previous incarnations of the holiday.
That's a partial list. So think about holidays on your own for a minute. They are a combination of religious holidays, patriotic holidays, government-designated holidays, traditional holidays from other cultures that have carried over to this country. Some of them you may not acknowledge. Some of them you may not get excited about. That is on you. A holiday is an opportunity, and it is up to you to make something out of it.
If you are a parent, how you treat holidays is something that your children are watching. Can't rev it up for cooking some steaks and maybe even talking about the purpose of Labor Day or your family's connection to it? That is on you. One of the duties of parenthood is teaching children how they are supposed to navigate life with their own families. If special times aren't special, then they begin to fade away for future generations.
When I think of Labor Day, I start by thinking of my grandfather who came over here from Hungary at age 14 or younger, didn't feel comfortable in his father's home with a new stepmother, and so left western Pennsylvania for Akron, Ohio to work in the tire factories there. At age 14. I think of my other grandfather, less ambitious, who was minimally motivated as an insurance salesman until his father won the Irish Sweepstakes and used the winnings to buy a lumber company in North Tonawanda, New York. My family influences go farther back, but the paths of those two men and the wives who stayed home and raised the children for them largely dictate the paths of my parents and, consequently, my family as well. Labor Day is a day for thinking about generations, past and future, and about our own work journeys.
And though having a cookout has no particular connection to any of that, our country has developed it's own traditions for holidays. If a cookout became standard practice because of the meat industry, so what? The fact is that when you cook a lot of outside foods and sides to go with them, you want to share the bounty with others.
For much of the country, Labor Day marks the end of summer, and that, too, is worth observing. There is something rewarding about having the tomatoes and jalapeños in a salsa appetizer, the tomatoes in a salad, the chives sprinkled over a dip, all there to remind you that what you have worked hard growing for the last 5+ months is winding down. There is something special about the inclusion of the tail end of those crops feeding people.
My table tonight included the very elderly, the retired, the currently working, the out of college and looking for a job--those work generations nurture each other when they gather for a communal meal when the sun doesn't know it won't stay this hot much longer, when bright flowers already have brown leaves landing in their midst, when fruits that have yet to ripen may not, when grass has begun to slow and die.
A holiday, any holiday, is a gift handed to you. To ignore that gift, to refuse to enjoy a heightened sense of the day, is to squander the joy of life, both in its rhythms and in the breaks in its routines. Happy Labor Day to all, and if today wasn't meaningful, you will make it so next year or the year after.