History of Columbus Day: Should We Celebrate Columbus?

Should We Celebrate Columbus Day?

Columbus Day 2016Columbus Day commemorates the arrival of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus to the American continents in 1492. The United States, Spain, Italy, and various countries in Latin America observe Columbus Day in some form, as the histories of these nations are significantly tied to Columbus’ expedition. But what Columbus did in the Americas has been riddled with controversy for centuries. His arrival marked the beginning of widespread theft, bloodshed, and exploitation of Native American lands and peoples. So, is Columbus Day a celebration of our nation, or an insult to every Native American’s ancestry? Maybe there’s a way we can remember the awful chain of events Columbus set in motion while also celebrating the formation of the United States. Maybe, on Columbus Day, we can think of America’s atonement as well as its discovery.

When is Columbus Day?

Columbus’ arrival in the Americas had been celebrated by colonists in America since the day it happened. But Columbus Day as an official holiday was first proposed by an Italian immigrant named Angelo Noce, who lived in Denver, Colorado, in the early 1900s. In 1905, the governor of Denver declared Columbus Day a state holiday of Colorado. Later, in April 1934, President Roosevelt and the United States Congress proclaimed Columbus Day a federal holiday. On October 12, 1970, it was decided that the second Monday of October would mark the celebration of Columbus Day throughout the country.

The Observance (or Non-Observance) of Columbus Day

Observance or non-observance of Columbus Day varies throughout the United States. In San Francisco, a Columbus Day Parade is carried out by the Italian-American community. There are also large celebrations in New York. The United States Navy celebrates Columbus Day in addition to its birthday, since the two holidays are only a couple days apart.

Some states refer to Columbus Day as a “Day of Recognition” or a “Day of Observance,” though they still celebrate it as a state holiday. Columbus Day is also observed in American territories in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Other states like Iowa and Nevada make official mentioning of Columbus Day, but the state functions as it would on any other day. Likewise, California and Texas do not recognize Columbus Day as a paid holiday, but still commemorate it verbally.

Four states don’t observe Columbus Day at all: South Dakota, Hawaii, Oregon, and Alaska. Hawaii uses the second Monday of October to celebrate “Discoverers’ Day,” commemorating the Polynesian explorers who settled Hawaii. However, neither Columbus Day nor Discoverers’ Day are viewed as legal holidays by the Hawaiian state government. Similarly, South Dakota elects to celebrate the second Monday of October as “Native American Day” rather than Columbus Day.

In 1992, Berkeley, California, renamed Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. Since then, other towns and localities in Minnesota, California, Washington, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Montana have followed suit.


Alternatives to Columbus Day

Columbus Day has been a controversial holiday long before it became federally recognized. Today, many argue that recognition of Christopher Columbus and other Europeans’ arrival in America is incomplete without acknowledging the mass killing and exploitation of Native Americans that followed. Many think the second Monday of October ought to be spent remembering these atrocities and seeking to improve relations with Native American and other marginalized peoples today.History of Columbus Day

This is not to say that the forming of the United States cannot be celebrated. Many Americans are able to observe Columbus Day and express their patriotism without disregarding the price that was paid by the indigenous people to create America. It is possible to recognize both sides of the story as we seek to honor our traditions but also make amends for past mistakes.

If the concept of Columbus Day sits like spoiled food in your stomach, consider these other proposed holidays that can complement, or even replace, Columbus Day observance in America:

  • “Indigenous People’s Day,” also known as “Native American Day” or “First Peoples’ Day,” is an increasingly popular option in many parts of the United States. As we express gratitude for our nation, we can also remember the generosity of Native Americans who helped our first fathers survive. We can also recognize the rich Native American traditions that persist today and beautify our country with wonderful diversity.
  • “Immigrants Day,” which recognizes populations from Europe, Asia, South America, etc. who immigrated to the United States and have been mistreated due to their religion or race. Columbus Day presents an excellent opportunity to remember that all non-Native Americans have ancestry outside the United States. Immigrants Day reaffirms the sentiment inscribed on the Statue of Liberty that America was established to be a refuge for all people seeking freedom.
  • “American Atonement Day,” in which Americans can welcome in the holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas by reflecting on the darker moments of our history as well as our successes. Reflection helps us reevaluate our present world. It helps us see what can be done to make amends and shape America to be a greater country than ever before.


Liberty and Justice for All

We at Low VA Rates love the United States of America and hope to observe this coming Columbus Day with remembrance for past wrongs as well as rights. We are thankful for the opportunity to learn from the past in order to create a better future. We express our support to all people of this country, particularly those in the military who put their lives on the line to make it a better place. To learn more about what we can do for you, visit our website.


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