Everyone knows that in fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He was looking for a way to reach India by sea and, instead, discovered America. That’s the myth behind the celebration of Columbus Day.
Christopher Columbus was not the first European to sail to the New World. At least 400 years before his arrival, the Vikings had colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland. Some scholars believe the continent was reached even earlier by East Asians, Phoenicians, and others. Whether myth or reality, the holiday marks the official U.S. recognition of the beginning of European efforts to explore and colonize the Americas.
The first Columbus Day celebration was held in 1792 in New York City to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. A 1937 proclamation by President Franklin Roosevelt named every October 12 Columbus’ Day. In 1971 President Richard Nixon declared the second Monday of October a public holiday.
In 1992 the quincentennial (500th) celebration of Columbus’ voyage caused many people to question the holiday’s importance. Although traditional historians view the Spanish explorer’s voyages as opening the New World to Western civilization and Christianity, other historians claim that his arrival symbolizes the cruel aspects of European colonization and marks the beginning of the destruction of American Indians and their culture.
In Hawaii, the holiday is officially named Discoverer’s Day as a way to honor James Cook, who was the first to put the Hawaiian Islands on the world’s map. In Nevada, Columbus Day is not a legal holiday at all. Fortunately for those who love a parade–and deep discounts at the shops– historians and public officials all agree that Columbus’ voyages were a major turning point in history. And that is reason enough for a day off.
Did You Know?
Some Italian-Americans observe Columbus Day as a celebration of their heritage. It began in 1866 in New York City, then San Francisco in 1869. In Boston they have a parade on the Sunday before Columbus Day.
Source: Taylor, Caroline. “What’s Happening on Columbus Day?.” Classroom Ready Monthly News (Blaine, WA). Oct 2008: 2+. SIRS Discoverer. Web.