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Happy Labor Day Without Obligation


Tomorrow is Labor Day, the most underrated holiday of all.

Isn't it fitting? A day set aside to honor working people asks nothing more of us than that we sit back, take it easy and do whatever the heck we want. No cards to send, no presents to buy, no spiritual angst, no stress-laden convergence of family members from the four corners of the globe.

If everybody wants to get together for a crab feast, fine. But no one's going to get bent out of shape if you take the kids for a ride or escape alone to a museum instead.

Labor Day involves no labor. It's strictly R&R.; A freebie. A gift with no strings attached.

There's no other holiday like it. Even Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, the nearest equivalents, carry their little stresses and obligations. If you grew up in a family that truly celebrated Memorial Day, you remember being dragged to the cemetery to pay solemn respect to the war dead.

The Fourth can be great fun . . . unless you get stuck in a massive traffic jam on the way to and from the fireworks. Or unless it rains. Rain turns the Fourth into a flop. If it rains on " Labor Day, you either move the picnic indoors and play Monopoly instead of volleyball, or everybody agrees to bag the party and curl up at home with a good book.

Weather can't spoil Labor Day. If it's hot, you savor this last breath of summer. If a snap in the air demands jeans and a sweatshirt, well, this is the unofficial start of fall, after all. Bring on the pumpkins.

Labor Day isn't a myth, so it never disappoints.

That's the trouble with Christmas. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it doesn't live up to its billing. Nobody rides one-horse sleighs through the snow. Carolers singing in the glow of streetlamps exist on greeting cards, but hardly anyplace else. You spend too much money and drink too much egg nog.

If you're alone, you feel lonely. If you're married, you have to choose which family you celebrate with and figure how you convince the other it's not chopped liver.

The whole idealized notion of family togetherness that permeates Christmas and Thanksgiving can make you a nervous wreck. It sets you up for almost certain disillusionment. Because unless everybody happens to be in just the right mood and says just the right things, chances are that before the whole event is over someone either will provoke an argument, suffer hurt feelings or vent annoyance.

Enduring such petty stresses at any old family gathering on any other day of the year is easy enough; you probably even laugh over them. But Christmas and Thanksgiving are supposed to be different. Those days are special. Everybody's supposed to love each other. This is not to say most families don't have a nice enough time. The trouble is, nice enough isn't enough if you believe the myth. You want magic. You want meaning.

New Year's Day features a different kind of pressure -- the pressure to have a rip-roaring time of your life. No one I know who has followed the traditional formula of swilling drinks, wearing party hats and kicking up his heels under a glitter ball has ever had a good time. Yet people keep doing it, partly because they fear they'll look like fuddy-duddies if they do what BTC they want, which is stay home with popcorn and a video.

Valentine's Day -- now there's an angst-ridden holiday if ever there was one. It's fine if you're married and both of you either a) do something you know the other will like, b) do something together, or c) agree to use the money you would have spent on candy and heart-splattered boxers for a new dishwasher.

But it's hell if you're single. There's nothing worse than being the only person in the office without a dozen roses on your desk, unless it's worrying whether your "special someone" will be devastated if you don't send him (her) flowers or scared that you want to get married tomorrow if you do.

Mother's Day and Father's Day didn't used to be so bad, until the greeting card, gift and restaurant businesses conspired to make it a federal offense to forget to do something special on those days. Never mind that a week ago you cleaned your mother's gutters and patched her roof; you're gonna be in the doghouse if you forget that card.

St. Patrick's Day puts you under pressure to wear green, or be subjected to an annoying chorus of "The snakes are gonna get you!" all day. Halloween's always been one of my favorites, but you have to have a good costume. More work, more pressure.

Tomorrow, you don't have to dress up. You don't have to have the perfect family. You don't have to look for gifts, cards or meaning. You don't have to do a thing that you don't want to do.

Enjoy. You won't see another day like it until next September.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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