The origins of Labor Day and how it’s celebrated couldn’t be more opposite.

The holiday came to fruition during the Industrial Revolution. The average laborers worked 12-hour days, seven days a week – until workers reached a boiling point and protests erupted. 

In an attempt to appease the working class, Labor Day was declared a legal holiday in 1894. So, the holiday is a tribute to American workers.

Xinzhu Yu (left) and Kaden Lewis stroll through the farmers market. They plan to spend quality time together before Lewis reports to work on Labor Day. Credit: Gina Castro

Today, people don’t think much of the holiday’s dark past. Instead, they think of the fruits of its labor. 

“It’s just a day off, for me,” said 22-year old international student Xinzhu Yu. She and her partner, Kaden Lewis, 23, were among dozens of others strolling through the Evanston’s Farmers Market on Saturday afternoon.

Attendees wandered around market vendors toting iced coffees and smiles – just taking in the final days of summer. Everyone seemed to have the same plans: relax.

“It’s the official end of summer,” said Pat Savage-Williams, President of the Evanston Township High School Board.

Her granddaughter Zhanna, 3, tugged the cart carrying the family’s goods, her lemon-covered sundress blowing in the gentle breeze. They were at the market to collect corn and other vegetables they intend to grill with family later.

Pat Savage-Williams, her daughter Crystal and granddaughter Zhanna cram in as much as they can into summer’s final days.  Credit: Gina Castro

“I just know you’re not supposed to wear white after Labor Day,” said Crystal Williams, Pat’s daughter.

This fashion faux pas is yet another indicator summer is coming to a close. It marks the time to fold your white linen button downs and summer dresses in preparation for fall. 

But not everyone gets to enjoy the day off. Lewis said he has to work at Whole Foods on Labor Day. And Williams said she was working overtime. 

“This day is about recognizing workers,” Lewis said, adding that working on this day “is ironic.”

The Thomases were also aware of this fact. 

“This day makes me appreciate workers,”  Jared Thomas said. “It’s to give workers a chance to relax. Unfortunately, fast-food workers don’t get that.”

Jared, his wife Kristlyn and their 2-year-old daughter Cora sat eating tacos from one of the vendors at a white picnic table. Cora busied herself with a sippy cup in her stroller. 

Jared and Kristlyn both work at Loyola University. This holiday is a double-hitter for them. It’s a three-day weekend and their anniversary. 

The couple plan to do some barbecuing before dropping Cora off with a babysitter to enjoy a dinner at an Italian restaurant with just the two of them.

Visitors from Chicago – Sara White and her husband Greg Staszko, with kids Miles and Audrey – escape to Evanston for the three-day weekend. Credit: Gina Castro

Out-of-towners peppered the market, too. An incoming Loyola student and her family were using the three-day weekend to move her into her new apartment. They’d never paid much attention to the holiday, they said.

Greg Staszko, 43, his wife Sara White, 45, and their children Audrey, 8, and Miles, 6 came from Chicago to enjoy the holiday weekend in another city.

White teaches at a Chicago public school and Greg is a psychologist. Usually, the kids start school after Labor Day, so this is the first time they feel like they’re getting a day off too, Greg explained. 

Their plan is to do “nothing exciting” – but that’s the beauty of Labor Day. 

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....