The end of summer is quickly approaching. I say this with sadness and awe—I don’t know what happened. My jean shorts still have a lot of wear in them. I’ve only been to the beach once this season. And I’m just now shedding my wintry paleness. Yet, Labor Day is about a week away.
Amidst the excitement of a day off from work, it can be easy to forget what we are meant to celebrate or reflect on during national holidays. Labor Day, for instance, has become a harbinger for the new school year, the start of the NFL season and white clothing faux pas. But its origins are rooted in the building of modern America. Labor Day is a tribute to the American worker, to whom we owe thanks for our enormous social and economic success.
The idea of Labor Day was first pitched during the labor movement when workers fought for basic rights: safe working conditions, livable wages and fair hours. It’s a fight we are all too familiar with today. In the late 1800s, municipal ordinances led to gradual state-by-state adoption of the holiday, and finally to an 1894 Congressional act that made Labor Day (the first Monday in September) a national holiday. It was to be celebrated with a public display of “the strength and esprit de corps of the [community’s] trade and labor organizations,” in the form of a parade and festival.
It’s too late to make reservations at the beach or to plan a trip away from the city—but stick around. There are a handful of parade and festival celebrations in the DC area that will make this year’s September 1st Labor Day memorable, and I’ve rounded them up for you:
Labor Day Capitol Concert: This annual concert features the National Symphony Orchestra and takes place at the US Capitol (West Lawn) on the Sunday before Labor Day. The concert begins at 8:00pm, but gates open at 3:00pm, just before the 3:30pm dress rehearsal. It will be crowded, so get there early and bring a picnic. Visit the Kennedy Center online, here, for more information.
Glenn Echo Labor Day Art Show: This year’s 44th annual show will be held at Glenn Echo’s Spanish Ballroom, a historic Art Deco-style building erected in 1933. The show includes both an exhibition and sales of art by more then 250 mid-Atlantic artists in a wide range of media: ceramics, painting, sculpture, jewelry, furniture, photography and much more. A Public Opening Reception will be held on Friday, August 29th, from 7:30pm to 9:00pm—and the main event will be held Saturday, August 30th, through Monday, September 1st, from noon to 6:00pm all three days. More information can be found online, here.
Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade: The Gaithersburg Labor Day celebration is one of the city’s oldest traditions. Originally, the festival was a fundraiser for the local fire department’s rescue squad, established in 1938. Now it is a much bigger undertaking, with fire engines, bands, clowns, horses and locals marching the streets. Amazingly, the event has been held every year since 1938, with the exception of 1942, due to World War II. Attend the Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade on Monday, September 1st, starting at 1pm. For more information, click here.
The DC Blues Festival: Don’t miss the annual DC Blues Festival, at Carter Barron Amphitheater (16th and Colorado Avenues NW), where locally and nationally celebrated blues musicians will face off for the 26th year. Its free, its outdoors and the music is definitely worth hearing. The festival will be held on Saturday, August 30th, between noon and 7:30pm. And though the main event is free, blues aficionados should consider buying a $15-$17 ticket for admission to special performances at the DC Blues Festival After Party. For more information, visit the festival online, here.
Greenbelt Labor Day Festival: This festival dates back to 1955, making this year its 60th anniversary. While the festival was originally held to raise funds for a local youth center, it’s become a much bigger, multi-day event. The celebration includes live music, amusement rides, art exhibitions, a Miss Greenbelt Pageant, a parade, food, a used book sale and more. The Greenbelt Labor Day Festival Committee is also one of Maryland’s largest volunteer organizations. This year’s festival will be held on Friday, August 29th, through Monday, September 1st, at the Roosevelt Center (101 Centerway in Greenbelt, MD). For more information and hours, visit the festival online, here.
Herndon Labor Day Festival: This festival may be small, but it’s high impact for the senses and includes culinary demos, local wine and beer tastings, a craft show and music performances. The festival takes place at the Herndon Town Green (777 Lynn Street in Herndon, VA) on Monday, September 1st, from noon to 6:00pm. For more information, look online here.