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by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer
Labour Day is one of Jamaica’s 10 public holidays. On this day, Jamaicans usually partake in activities that benefit their community or country as a whole. Even the most unskilled will help to paint, build or renovate houses and public buildings, repaint pedestrian crossings, erect road signs, plant trees, beach clean-ups or any of the many other beautification efforts coordinated for the day.
While this sounds like a noble effort for the very patriotic people of this nation to give back, this wasn’t the nature of the holiday when it first began. Would you like to learn more? Let’s get into it.
As with many other historical facts, we must travel back to a time when Jamaica was still a colony of Great Britain. Back then, all colonies celebrated Empire Day in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday on May 24th.
But, after Jamaica was emancipated and was about to gain Independence, it seemed logical to remove the holiday from the list of Public holidays in Jamaica. It was the year 1961 when then Chief Minister Norman Washington Manley proposed replacing Empire Day with Labour Day.
This new holiday which was to be celebrated on the 23rd of May was to commemorate the labour rebellion of 1938 on that date. The labour rebellion was led by the man who would become the first prime minister of an independent Jamaica, Sir Alexander Bustamante.
The move to make Labour Day what we know it to be now, came later, in 1972, this time the suggestion was made by the son of Norman Manley, Michael Manley who was Prime Minister at the time.
It was to be a day of participating in voluntary service which would benefit the country of Jamaica and show the solidarity of the Jamaican people.
Whenever Labour Day falls on a Sunday, it is then observed on the following Monday instead.
Church, school and club, associations and societies all choose a particular project that they will complete on Labour Day. Some projects will even be done as a partnership between multiple organizations.
Corporate Jamaica is heavily involved in Labour Day as well, through their Corporate Social Responsibility or Community Development Arms.
There are sometimes donations to charities or organisations as well but the day is mainly focused on showing your dedication to the upliftment of Jamaica as a nation through physical acts of service and sacrificed time.
There is a National Labour Day Committee which comes up with a theme for the day’s activities and this year’s theme is ‘Mek Jamaica Cris a Clean’. A national project is selected and this is where much of the political directorate places its focus.
However, in addition to this, there are parish projects and thousands of community projects which are either completed on Labour Day or some time after.
The National Labour Day Church Service kicks off Labour Day and the National Labour Day Concert, which is being hosted this year at Mandela Park in Half Way Tree, brings the day to a close. Several upcoming, as well as established acts, perform at no cost at this free public event.
Other activities for Labour Day in Jamaica will include tributes to the National Hero, the Right Excellent Sam Sharpe at both Heroes Circle and Sam Sharpe Square in Montego Bay. The National Hero was martyred on May 23, 1832, for leading a war against slavery.
No matter the nature of the occasion it wouldn’t be Jamaica without a lively get-together and the “breaking of bread”. So, after a hard day's work beautifying Jamaica, it is time to get some well-needed entertainment in before we have to head back to work, school and normal life.
Labour Day is a great excuse for a trip to the popular beach, because who wouldn’t want to frolic on a freshly cleaned beach? Also, parties scheduled for the evening of Labour Day will be promoted at least a few weeks before the day.
Labour Day in Jamaica means a long weekend, there are even more opportunities to get together with friends and family. It isn’t a holiday that Jamaicans abroad typically fly home for, but because almost every Jamaican is guaranteed to be home, it is often the predetermined date for family reunions or other get together
Labour Day is another of the many great examples of the solidarity between Jamaican citizens and their dedication to their country.
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