The Meaning of Labor Day? It's Different Than Memorial Day and Here's How

Labor Day and Memorial Day are both ultra-American summer holidays. You can celebrate them the same way: with barbecues and time at the pool. Though many Americans even get the days mixed up, they represent totally different things. If you think Labor Day and Memorial Day are interchangeable holidays, please pay attention to what we're about to tell you.

In 2020, Labor Day will fall on Monday, September 7. The holiday unofficially marks the end of summer, and to some, the end of wearing white pants until next year. Though it serves as a sort of curtain call for the warm months, that's not actually the point of the holiday. Labor Day is designed as a day of respect and a chance to thank all the working people in America and offer them a break from the typical workweek. (They also celebrate this day in Canada, where it's called "Labour Day.")

If you work to make a living—because you enjoy it, you've got people to take care of or you're chasing a dream—Labor Day is a day to kick your feet up and celebrate yourself and all the work you've been doing.

American Flag
An American flag flying against a blue sky, circa 1990. Alfred Gescheidt/Getty Images/Getty

The holiday began as a declaration by the Labor Movement, according to Forbes, and asked workers everywhere to reflect on the American work and lifestyle balance. And while you're thinking about that, you're also supposed to think about the Americans that came before you, who worked hard to create a booming economy and "American Dream" lifestyle that our society is still benefiting from today.

Memorial Day is about remembering American heroes, too, but a different sort. The start-of-summer holiday is meant to memorialize the American soldiers who have died in service, or after. That holiday is also often confused with Veteran's Day, which pays respect to living Veterans, a much less solemn holiday.

So with such different things to reflect on, why are Memorial Day and Labor Day celebrated in such similar ways? It seems to be because of their placement on the calendar, and the fact that over time, these holidays have become American bookends to the summer season. Memorial Day, while a somber holiday that deserves moments of reflection, has become a celebration for the start of summer, marked with the opening of pools and beaches and, when movie theaters were a thing, the beginning of summer blockbuster season.

Labor Day, on the other hand, has taken on more of a bittersweet tinge, since it signals the passing of summer and the start of another school year.

So Monday, when you take time off of work and bid goodbye to the summer months, make sure to take a moment to thank yourself for the hard work you do every week, as well as those who have worked hard before you even entered the workforce.