As I write this today, it’s the Friday that starts Labor Day Weekend. Most people don’t consider this a major holiday, but a long weekend is always welcomed. Since our culture and families build traditions into these yearly mile markers, the familiar elements of Labor Day are no exception.
- It’s a day off from work for many people. Hooray.
- It’s the unofficial end of summer, with the actual autumnal equinox about 3 weeks later.
- In the south, that means, put your white shoes away until next year. A true southern belle wouldn’t be caught dead in white shoes after Labor Day until Memorial Day, but some have been persuaded that it’s permissible from Easter till Labor Day.
- It’s a time for businesses to advertise a big Labor Day sale. But then, what holiday isn’t?
- Some communities have parades and picnics, with music by local bands. Think John Philip Sousa in the gazebo bandstand.
- Since it’s close to the election season, politicians take advantage of these gatherings for hand-shaking, baby-kissing, and stump speeches.
- Schools used to start after Labor Day, since states required fewer instructional days back then. Now, with most schools beginning in August, it’s the first holiday of the new school year.
For me, it means barbecue and camp stew. If I don’t have at least one of those, it’s not Labor Day. It’s a tradition from my childhood, when my home church in Montgomery, Alabama held a huge Labor Day barbecue. We sold tickets in the weeks before, since this was the big missions fundraiser. For us, the long weekend was no leisurely family affair. The women were making goodies for the bake sale and helping the men, who were prepping the food. On Sunday evening, our youth group folded cardboard boxes for the hundreds of take-out orders.
My dad took the midnight shift, spending the night, either tending the meat, slow-cooking over coals at the long, brick barbecue pits, or stirring the huge cast iron cauldron of camp stew. My mom and I were up early to go to the church to get ready for the lunch crowd. The men were out in the churchyard all day, sweating over the chicken and pulled pork, while the women filled plate after plate with coleslaw, baked beans, meat, stew, and sliced white bread. Young folks helped sell baked goods, take up tickets, and deliver boxed dinners to cars in the drive-up line.
It was a long, tiring day, with a lot of work, but a lot of fun. It was a time of unity and multi-generational fellowship. If we ran out of food, we’d send customers to the Greek Orthodox Church across town who also was famous for their Labor Day barbecue. They’d do the same for us. It was all for a good cause in the name of Jesus. It was a labor of love.
After years of struggle, and efforts to save itself, my childhood home church closed its doors on Easter Sunday 2012. It’s a story that has repeated thousands of times around our country. It includes my adult home church as well, which closed after Thanksgiving in 2016. The members have scattered and many have passed on.
This Labor Day, I’ll eat barbecue and camp stew and remember both St. Mark UMC and Forest Hill UMC.
2. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3. remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1Thessalonians 1:2-3