Columbus Day (Most regions)


Next Monday, 14 October 2024

Columbus Day takes place on the second Monday of October. It is a federal holiday, so most banks and government offices are closed. However, not all schools and post offices are closed for the day, so it is best to check beforehand. 

Some states do not observe the holiday. Therefore, in those states, it is not a day off and many shops and businesses remain open. In most of those cities, the day is known as National Indigenous Peoples Day. 

The 2023 Columbus Day Celebration marks the 531st year since Columbus's first historic voyage.

Columbus' Voyages

Christopher Columbus was the son of a wool weaver who was born sometime in 1451 in Genoa, Italy. He set out on his first exploratory voyage on August 3, 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.

Although his destination lay in the East, he traveled toward the West because he believed that the Earth was round so he would eventually travel the entire world and reach his destination. However, his miscalculations led him to consider that the circumference of the earth was a lot lesser than it actually was.

On October 12, 1492, the three ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, landed in the Bahamas. Later in October, they saw the coast of Cuba and Columbus believed he had discovered China. 

Columbus' First Landing, 1492

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 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.

Columbus Day History

The first recorded celebration in the United States was observed in 1792. It marked 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.”

There was another reason behind the Columbus Day celebration. In 1891, people in New Orleans lynched around eleven Italians which led to the rise of tension between the US and Italy. To resolve this, President Benjamin Harrison observed Columbus Day the following year.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic-based fraternal organization, lobbied for the day to be an official observance. Finally, 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. 

Columbus Day Controversy

There is much controversy over celebrating Columbus Day. Some reasons given are:

  • Columbus did not discover any place. It was the indigenous peoples who 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 ruled Hispaniola resulted in his arrest of him in 1498. 

"They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…They would make fine servants …With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."

-Christopher Columbus on Native Americans

  • 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.

Places That Do Not Celebrate Columbus Day

Although it is celebrated in most parts of America, for the above reasons, many cities and states have chosen not to celebrate it, or to substitute it with Indigenous People's Day. Cities that do not celebrate Columbus Day include:

  • Seattle: In 2014, they renamed the occasion National Indigenous Peoples Day.
  • Los Angeles: In 2017, the council voted to rename the day to Indigenous Peoples Day
  • Denver: Having attempted to rename the day several times, they finally succeeded in 2020. 
  • Phoenix: The council voted 9-0 to rename the day in 2016. 
  • Sandusky, Ohio: In 2019, Sandusky renamed the day National Election Day. 

The States that have renamed Columbus Day include:

  • Alaska: Celebrate the day by remembering the indigenous tribes of Alaska and changed the day's name in 2020. 
  • Vermont: In 2019, they changed the name of the occasion. 
  • Oregon: This is the latest state to rename Columbus Day, renaming it National Indigenous Peoples Day in 2021.
  • Colorado: Renamed the day Cabrini Day in 2020 to celebrate the life of an Italian woman called Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of Immigrants.

The aim of these substitutes is to acknowledge the historical events of Columbus' voyage, but also his treatment of the native people he encountered and to show honor and respect to native people in general.

Columbus Day Celebrations Today

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. 

Columbus Day in New York
The Columbus Day Parade on 5th Avenue, New York

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.

Columbus Day (Most regions)
Columbus Day (Most regions)

Columbus Day (Most regions) 2024

Date: Monday, 13 October 2025

Date: Monday, 12 October 2026

Date: Monday, 11 October 2027

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