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In Michigan, the Bakers and Butchers unions parade for Labor Day in 1952.
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Celebrating Summer’s End

Beverly Stephen - August 26th, 2013

Last day to wear white? Back to school? End of summer? Three day weekend? Suspension of alternate side of the street parking in NYC?

Labor Day means all this and more. First proposed in 1882 and later declared a federal holiday in 1894, it was originally meant to honor workers and even to give them an extra day of rest. Ironically, it has become one of the biggest retail sales days of the year, after Black Friday and, as a result, causes many people extra work.

Street parades, political speeches, and festivals soon became de rigueur. In short order, Americans took to the roads for driving vacations. This year is expected to hit an all-time high, with the AAA automobile club projecting that 34.1 million Americans will make getaways at least 50 miles from their homes. As usual, hotels are offering special packages (featuring activities such as white water rafting or hot air ballooning), while in some of the more ambitious places, entire towns are showcasing their chefs in culinary festivals, barbecues, and clambakes.

Labor Day is celebrated throughout the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. At the El San Juan Resort & Casino in Puerto Rico, Veuve Clicquot will pop corks for three days at their Labor Day Experience, treating guests to Latin-inspired dishes especially designed by chef Ingrid Hoffman to pair with the bubbly. At the Westin San Diego, a package cleverly honoring the original proposal date offers the first night of a three night stay for $18.82, while numerous other hotels simply offer a free fourth night. Fireworks will provide a grand finale for the weekend at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia. Guests at Nick’s Cove in Marshall, California, can take a nighttime kayak tour on Tomales Bay. Farther north in Mendocino, California, the adventurous staying at Little River Inn can take a llama trek on the bluffs. The Hollywood and Wine Festival at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix will feature dive-in movies. And gamblers will try their luck at Las Vegas hotels and casinos all along the strip.

Culinary festivals are becoming increasingly popular ways to celebrate Labor Day, from Colonial Williamsburg to Hawaii. The Taste Tradition in Colonial Williamsburg features contemporary cuisine inspired by 18th century traditions. A Thomas Jefferson wine dinner is one of the highlights. In Vail Village, Colorado, Gourmet on Gore will return for the seventh year on the village’s Gore Creek Drive. Phoenix Cooks will take place at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona. Ka’anapali Beach Resort will host Maui’s end-of-summer bash, Ka'anapali Fresh, featuring not only the requisite tasting dinners but a coffee farm tour and a Grown on Maui farmers’ market.

For the chefs and hoteliers involved in all these promotions, the meaning of Labor Day will be just that—labor. But the saving grace is revenue from the last big weekend of the season.