Columbus Day (Most regions)
Columbus Day takes place on the second Monday of October. It is a federal holiday, so most banks and government offices are closed. Schools and post offices do not have to close for the day, but it is best to check beforehand. Some states do not observe the holiday, therefore, in those states, it is not a day off - many shops and businesses remain open.
Christopher Columbus, born in Italy sometime in 1451, set out on his first exploratory voyage in 1492, with the backing of the King and Queen of Spain. With this voyage, he intended to establish a western sea route to Asian islands near China and India, famed for gold and spices.
On October 12, 1492, the ships landed in the Bahamas. Later in October, they saw the coast of Cuba and Columbus believed he had discovered China. In December, they landed in Hispaniola, thinking it was Japan. There he established Spain’s first colony and arrived home in March 1493. He went on to make 3 further journeys in 1493, 1498 and 1502, visiting the islands and the coast of mainland South America. He died in Spain in 1506.
Some sources state that he did come to realize that he had traveled to a new continent, not the Indies; others claim he died still believing he had actually established a route to the East. Whatever the case, his voyages connected the Old and New Worlds and led to the exploration and exploitation of the Americas.
History of Columbus Day
The first recorded celebration was in 1792, for the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ first landing in the Americas. This was organized by the Society of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order, a New York political society. Italian and Catholic communities began to observe the day by holding religious ceremonies and parades, particularly in the latter half of the 19th century.
In 1892, to celebrate the 400th anniversary, President Harrison proclaimed that citizens “cease from toil and devote themselves to such exercises as may best express honor to the discoverer and their appreciation of the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life.”
The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic-based fraternal organization, lobbied for the day to be an official observance. In 1937, President Roosevelt proclaimed October 12 a national holiday. In 1971, by presidential proclamation, the day was changed to the second Monday in October.
There is much controversy over celebrating Columbus Day. Some reasons given are:
Columbus did not discover anywhere. The indigenous peoples had lived there for centuries. Also, the Vikings are believed to have established colonies in Newfoundland, Canada, in the 10th century.
He treated the indigenous people barbarically, forcing them into slavery and to accept Christianity. The brutality with which he and his brothers governed Hispaniola resulted in his arrest in 1498.
He introduced diseases, such as smallpox and influenza, that were formerly unknown to the continent. These had a catastrophic effect on the native people, who had no immunity to such illnesses. It led to the almost complete decimation of native populations.
The exploration and exploitation of the Americas by Europeans led to the Slave Trade and its devastating consequences.
For the above reasons, many cities, including Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, and Phoenix, and states such as Alaska, Vermont, and Oregon, have substituted Indigenous People’s Day for Columbus Day. Hawaii celebrates Discoverers’ Day, and South Dakota observes Native American Day. The aim is to acknowledge Columbus’ treatment of the native people he encountered and to show honor and respect to native people in general.
A proclamation is made by the President to declare the second Monday of October Columbus Day. Areas with large Italian-American communities conduct special church services. There are also large events such as street parades and fairs to extol Italian music and food.
For those who get a day off, Columbus Day is an opportunity for a long weekend away. Retailers hold their first sales after the back-to-school period, giving people a head start on Christmas shopping.