It’s Labor Day in the U.S. of A., the first Monday of September. A day dedicated to the American worker and their hard-working contributions to the country. We celebrate by doing as little as possible (at least at our for-pay job) other than grilling, eating, and bidding farewell to summer and white shoes.
Amazingly enough, I found a phrase in my slang bible, the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, that is somewhat akin to Labor Day. The most dedicated supporters of this term even attempted to observe it every single week, in fact.
Saint Monday (noun)
A holiday most religiously observed by journeymen shoemakers, and other inferior mechanics. A profanation of that day, by working, is punishable by a line, particularly among the gentle craft. An Irishman observed, that this saint’s anniversary happened every week.
A Dictionary of English Folklore reveals even more about the word of the week.
Not a saint at all, but ‘keeping Saint Monday’ was formerly used to describe the regular practice of staying off work on Mondays, particularly in the shoemaking trade. The custom was already well known in the 17th century, as evidenced by the line in the play: ‘They say Monday’s Shooemaker’s holliday, I’le fall to that trade’ (Dekker, If It Be Not Good, The Diuel Is In It (1612). This gives the lie to a legend, involving a Perth shoemaker and Oliver Cromwell, which seeks to explain its origin (Folk-Lore Record 1 (1878), 245–6). The custom fell into disuse following the gradual spread of more regulated working hours and the introduction of half-day working on Saturdays. There is a French phrase, reported from the 16th century, faire le lundi des savetiers, or ‘to keep the cobbler’s Monday’.
From The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, 1823:
- Slang taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
- Search for more interesting historical tidbits, like the Saint Monday poem, in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume 2.
- Information from A Dictionary of English Folklore courtesy of Oxford Reference.
- A nice history of Saint Monday can be found at The Decline of Saint Monday 1766-1876.