The Second Most Sacred Day of the Year
September 1, 2006
As the summer comes to a close we draw ever closer to the second highest holiday of the calendar year; Labour Day. Yes, with the exception of the universally recognized most important holiday – All Hallows Eve – Labour Day represents one of the most sacred days still celebrated by our spiritually hollow society.
Unfortunately, like the all important All Hallows Eve, few people recall what this important day is all about. While most of us enjoy the statutory holiday and miss work and school, few are even aware of (much less remember) the important rituals traditionally associated sacred event. Indeed, even the history of Labour Day has been obscured in the sands time and the fog of consumerism. Labour Day greeting cards, and the oft loved but little understood Labour Day Badger (who sneaks into homes and leave minty candy droppings about the home) have completely colonized what was once a far more somber and serious day.
However, it is never too late to get in touch with our history.
A brief history of Labour Day
The history of Labour Day begins in 1320 off the coast of Brittany, where Bertrand Du Guesclin was born into a family in the lowest ranks of nobility. As a young boy, he was already notable for his coarseness and inclination towards violence, and for his desire (a desire that would be with him forever) to become a knight.
Yet, in the 13th century, knighthood was already considered as a social order and it was a hereditary condition. It was very difficult to accede to the condition in the old way – being armed by the king. Nevertheless, the case of Du Guesclin was exceptional.
Bertrand Du Guesclin began his adult life more as a highwayman than a warrior. He placed himself at the head of a group of adventuring labourers armed with Breton axes, and took part in the Brittany Civil War (1341-1364), on the side of Carlos de Blois (supported by France) against the Count of Montfort (supported by England). As the years passed, his squad – archers and poachers had also joined him by now – became fearful. The Labourers, as his squad came to be known, were not only loyal to Du Guesclin as a commdander, but came to believe he was of divine origin. By, 1351 (even before he was knighted) the Labourers had declared Bertrand Du Guesclin as a living God.
Du Guesclin’s ability as a strategist and warrior won him fame during the siege of Rennes. In 1357, while the Black Prince was on his way to Bordeaux, Bertrand Du Guesclin managed to lift the siege of the city, thanks to his audiences with the Duke of Lancaster. On account of this feat, he was named knight by Carlos de Blois.
However, Du Guesclin’s luck ran out at the Battle of Auray (1364), where he was defeated and captured by the English. Devasted, but steadfast in their conviction, Du Guesclin’s Labourer’s petitioned the King of France (King Charles V) to pay the ransom for Du Guesclin’s release. The King however refused.
Du Guesclin was executed on Monday September 2nd 1365. He was hung, trampled, drowned and finally drawn and quartered. The Labourers were devasted by the loss of Du Guesclin, and almost immediately disbanded.
One year to the day in 1366, a group of axe wielding mercenaries (naked except for hoods and the banner of the disbanded Labourers) sacked the city of Rennes. Enraged, King Charles V ordered all the Labourers hunted down and executed. However, despite the death of the Labourers, Rennes was again ravaged two years to the day of Du Gueslcin’s death, again by unknown (and unclothed) forces bearing the standard of the Labourers.
And so the legend grew.
By 1379, the first Monday of September had come to be known as the Day of the Labourers, and each year on that date men would ride out with the long retired standard of DuGuesclin’s Labourers and commit crimes against the aristocracy. By the late 1750s the Day of the Labourers had been shortened to Labourers Day – and the annual day of rebellion had been reduced to acts of petty arson and vandalism against the emerging merchant princes. However, on September 4th 1887, Labourers Day once again became a day of resistance as some 3800 angry brick layers, shed their trousers, and rioted in the streets of Paris. It is from this important event that the historically wielded axes were traded for the now traditional bricks.
Labour Day Today
Over 500 years after the death of Bertrand Du Gesclin, Labourers Day (now Labour Day) is still celebrated. While much of its history has been lost, some of the ritual and tradition accrued over the centuries has survived. Bands of roaming hoodlems can still be found, bricks in hand. And upon occasion a noble soul still hurls an axe in the name of justice, or anger. Yet many of the more nuanced traditions have been lost, while others have been twisted or lost altogether in vile advance of consumerism.
A day of naked frivolity no longer
One of the first traditions to have been lost was that of naked marauding. While some small vestiges of this noble ritual remain (some gangs of vandals have been known to go pantless), for the most part this tradition has been lost. Recently, a small company in Denmark has begun producing flesh colored slacks expressly for Labour Day celebrations, but these have yet to catch on.
From axes to bricks to mint chocolate Badger droppings
Obviously one of the greatest changes in Labour day celebrations is the choice of hurled objects. Long gone are the days of the Labourers’ Bretton axes, and even the traditional red bricks of the Parisian brick layers. Instead today, children totally ignorant of the holiday’s noble history, pelt each other with bundles of mint chocolate badger droppings, hardly aware of the cultural void they have been left in. The candied badger treats, the invention of a Peruvian carny Hector Gonzalos in the 1920s, are rumored to commemorate the use of badger droppings as mortar by Peruvian brick layers. This however has proven to be little more than the marketing genius of Hector.
What can we do?
Now I know what you are all thinking, what can we as individuals do to reclaim the lost glory that once belonged to the this proud and important holiday?
For you convenience I have put together a short list of rituals that you can pursue this holiday Monday to help return Labour Day’s lost status:
- Avoid pants – In this way you will be helping remember those brave Labourers who showed King Charles V they were nothing to fuck with when they sacked the city of Rennes au naturell.
- Boycott hollow consumerisms – Make your own Labour Day greeting cards and presents, avoid the Labour Day theme products (like Du Gesclin Tuna or Parisian Bricklayer Mini-wheets) and boycott those delicious yet spiritually compromising chocolaty badger treats.
- Wear white on Tuesday – Ya that’s right, down with false idols!
- Throw a brick or Bretton axe for justice – Whether it be aimed at a corrupt city official, suburban thug or one of those annoying people who ride their bicycles while talking on their cell phones, take up one of the traditional weapons of Labour Day and hurl it in honor of all those who have come before you.
While none of these activities alone, or pursued by you individually will bring back the glory of this sacred day, together (as with all things) we can make a difference.
Merry Day of the Labourers, and to all a happy Axing!
w()rmwood is working on his PhD. while fleecing the Canadian Government in his part-time. Like it? Read more articles by w()rmwood.