What exactly is Columbus Day and why do we celebrate it?
October 2021 Update:
This year President Joe Biden Jr. proclaimed Monday, October 11, 2021 to be recognized as “Indigenous Peoples Day.”
Here is a brief excerpt from his proclamation. You can read the entire proclamation on the White House website.
This did not include ending Columbus Day – the first Monday of October – as a Federal holiday. It just added a new/additional holiday on October 11, 2021.
Columbus Day Facts
Columbus Day is always the first Monday in October. But why do we even celebrate it? Was Christopher Columbus anything to the United States of America? The answers might surprise you.
History of Columbus Day
According the History Channel, Columbus Day was unofficially celebrated in the 18th century but didn’t become a national holiday until 1937.
Some people celebrate Italian-American heritage on this day. Others contest this as a holiday, saying he wasn’t a man worth honoring.
Here’s more information from the History Channel about the first time Columbus was officially celebrated in the United States:
The first Columbus Day celebration took place in 1792, when New York’s Columbian Order—better known as Tammany Hall—held an event to commemorate the historic landing’s 300th anniversary. Taking pride in Columbus’ birthplace and faith, Italian and Catholic communities in various parts of the country began organizing annual religious ceremonies and parades in his honor.
Why Do We Get Columbus Day Off School?
We get Columbus Day off school because it is a holiday recognized by the United States Federal Government.
Who Was Christopher Columbus?
Christopher Columbus was born in 1451 and died in 1506. He was born in the Republic of Genoa, what is now modern-day Italy. In his 20s he moved to Portugal and later settled in Spain.
He loved life at sea. At one point he married Felipa Perestrello and they had a son named Diego. But she died soon after. Then he moved to Spain where he had another son, Fernando, in 1488 out of wedlock.
His adventures at sea were mainly on commercial ships, trading with other countries. He traveled a lot to Africa and learned a lot about the Atlantic currents.
In fact, it was his desire to trade with China and India that motivated him to make that epic journey we all know about. He thought that if he sailed West, he could go from the Canary Islands to Japan in only 2,300 miles.
So he led 3 ships west, heading towards what he thought was India, China, and Japan. He ended up 36 days later in the present-day Bahamas.
He would later lead 3 more voyages, each ending in Central or South America. He never arrived in India, as he thought.
And no, he never actually landed in the present-day United States of America.
In fact, honoring his legacy is highly contested, due to his history of rape and genocide.
List of Columbus Day Facts
Here are some quick facts about Christopher Columbus, and Columbus Day.
- President Franklin D. Roosevelt established Columbus Day in 1937, after lobbying by the Knights of Columbus
- Controversy over Columbus Day started in the 19th Century when anti-immigrant groups didn’t like the association with Catholicism.
- Native Americans protest it, saying it is an event that began the colonization of the Americas (which didn’t lead to good things for them!)
- European settlers brought a host of infectious diseases, including smallpox and influenza, that decimated indigenous populations.
- After arriving in the Bahamas, Columbus and his men forced the natives into slavery
- Later, while serving as the governor of Hispaniola, he allegedly imposed barbaric forms of punishment, including torture.
- Many states in the USA are replacing this day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Berkeley, California, was the first city to adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in 1992.
More Holiday Articles
Want to learn more about other holidays? Here’s my article about the origins of Valentine’s Day.