Labor Day weekend often serves as the symbolic boundary line between summer and fall, as well as the end of swimming pool visits and beach vacations and the start of school. It's typically filled with barbecues, parades and get-togethers with friends.
This year the coronavirus has made the holiday feel a bit different: social gatherings are a challenge to navigate, many annual activities are canceled to avoid the spread of COVID-19, and some students are starting school online. But we still crave ways to celebrate the end of summer and pay tribute to the achievements of American workers. So how can we enjoy the Labor Day holiday and also feel safe?
"The way people are getting together is changing and, as we all continue to adjust, it's important to remember that everyone is experiencing the pandemic differently,” says Zaria Zinn, a marketing campaign specialist at Evite. “As we continue to navigate this new normal, we will need to adapt our party behavior to respect other people's health and safety.”
Barbecue is the star of the show
Barbecues are a classic Labor Day weekend activity. So maybe you don't have that blowout bash of the past, but it is possible to host or attend a socially distant gathering for a few friends. Outdoors is best, since experts say that lowers the chance of transmission of COVID-19. And there are plenty of ways to make a summer cookout less of a risk, including limiting shared items (such as serving utensils), having hand sanitizer available and restricting inside entertaining.
Barbecue master Robbie Shoults, the third-generation owner of Bear Creek Smokehouse in Marshall, Texas, says such gatherings create an atmosphere that helps people connect in a special way, even during the unusual times we're experiencing now. “Cooking out and grilling all play a major role in the Labor Day festivities,” he says. “Celebrating almost always involves food, and great food is what brings good friends and family together."
Shoults recommends making pulled pork (see recipe below) as a crowd pleaser. It can be served on a soft bun and with coleslaw. And if you're opting out of backyard barbecues this year, you can still get your fix. The Emmy-nominated Netflix foodie series Chef's Table unveiled four episodes on barbecue just in time for Labor Day weekend.
Bear Creek Pulled Pork
- 1 bone-in pork shoulder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon red pepper
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
Mix salt, spices and brown sugar together and rub pork shoulder generously. Place on a wood smoker if possible*, and smoke at 225°F until meat reaches an internal temp of 200 degrees. This may take six to eight hours, depending on the smoker. At that point the bone should easily be removed by gently pulling on it away from the meat. Put the pork shoulder in a large pan and use two forks to shred the meat until you have a uniform-looking product. Use your favorite barbecue sauce to mix in, or add sauce individually for sandwiches or sliders. *If you don't have a smoker, this recipe can still be done in the oven in a covered pot.
Take a dip in the water
Labor Day weekend is often the last chance for that summer cannonball into the pool or that visit to the beach. Many pools did open this summer, but with new rules for social distancing that may include bringing your own chairs, signing up for a time slot or wearing masks on the pool deck when you're not swimming. If you visit the pool make sure to practice safe social-distancing etiquette.
If the ocean is your destination, first check whether or not the beach is open for visitors. Some beaches in California and Florida, for example, are closed for the holiday to prevent crowds from gathering. But if your beach is open, make sure to find a spot 6 feet away from others — and don't forget the sunscreen. Even though it might be later in the summer season, sun protection still should be an important part of your pool or beachside ritual.
Participate in celebrations and events virtually
Maybe you can't see the relatives you typically host or visit with, but you can include them in the party through video connections. In fact, many people aren't ready to socialize in big groups face-to-face. A recent Evite survey of 2,000 Americans found 6 in 10 people only feel comfortable attending virtual parties for the rest of the year.
"It's important that a virtual party actually feel like a party, not just a regular video chat,” Zinn says. That may mean asking your virtual guests to dress for the event or to coordinate on appetizers and drinks so you're sharing the same snacks.
In addition, lots of activities that have been put on hold by the pandemic can be found online. Participate in one of many virtual 5K runs around the country; check out the online version of the Tumbleweed Music Festival, usually held live in Richland, Washington; or delve into the history behind Labor Day with an interactive, online event hosted by several history-related organizations — including the Illinois Labor History Society and the Pullman National Monument. The theme for discussions will be “Our Work: Then. Now. Tomorrow.”
Play a game
If the weather is good, Labor Day is the perfect time to play family-friendly outdoor games, like spikeball, frisbee, cornhole or badminton. Or maybe you prefer golf, tennis or pickleball. If so, make sure you follow the new coronavirus-related etiquette for these sports.
Labor Day weekend is a great time to walk, hike, bike or stroll and spend some time outdoors. Suzanne Benites, of Mansfield, Texas, turns 59 this week and will spend her holiday at a family cabin on a lake in a rural area in the Piney Woods. There's no cellphone service or television. Benites and her husband plan to go boating on the lake and fish for bass.
"You're completely disconnected from everything, so you get to focus on what's important,” she says.
Her daughter, who is in college nearby, will visit, but the family has agreed they'll all stay outside in order to remain socially distant. “I told her if she wanted to see us, she needed to take precautions,” Benites says.
There are plenty of natural areas in which to spend time. Visit a national park, or try pitching a tent and camping locally. If you're a novice to sleeping under the stars, our camping guide will tell you what you need to know — from gear to meal prep.