What Is Columbus Day?
Columbus Day is a federal U.S. holiday that commemorates the voyage and landing of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in the “New World” on October 12, 1492.
The anniversary of his landing in what would eventually be known the Americas was first formally celebrated 300 years later, in 1792, by the Columbian Order (Society of St. Tammany) in New York City.
When Is Columbus Day?
Columbus Day is observed on the second Monday in October each year. This means that the date changes from year to year. In 2022, Columbus Day will be observed on Monday, October 10.
A Brief History of Columbus Day
In Christopher Columbus’ day, scholars knew already that the world was round; the fact dated from the ancient Greeks. People assumed that a ship traveling west from Europe would sail clear through to Asia. However, many believed that such a westward journey was impossible. Columbus, an Italian, was convinced otherwise and persuaded King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain to sponsor his exploration and search for riches.
On October 12, 1492, Columbus landed on a small island in the Bahamas, convinced that he had reached his destination of Asia. Although he was not the first European to come across the Americas (Vikings, among others, had visited before), his journey sparked enthusiasm for European exploration of the hemisphere, and kicked off a significant connection between the Old World and the New World.
The first celebration of Columbus’s landing in the New World took place in 1792. It was organized by the Columbian Order (Society of St. Tammany) in New York City. In 1937, the occasion was declared a national holiday by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Columbus Day has been observed on the second Monday of October since 1971.
Thanks to Columbus’ Italian heritage, some Italian-American circles observe Columbus Day as a holiday for celebrating Italian history, culture, and accomplishments.
Columbus Day Controversy
The observance of Columbus Day is not without controversy, however. Although Columbus’ landing in the New World marked the start of a new age of exploration and development for the world, the reality of European colonization is that it brought disease, enslavement, and genocide to the indigenous people of the Americas. This part of colonial history has largely been left unrecognized in Columbus Day celebrations, though in recent decades this has been changing, with more and more cities and states choosing to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Some locations in the United States honor Native American culture on the second Monday in October with a holiday called Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Since the late 1980s, this day has been celebrated instead of or alongside Columbus Day.
The purpose of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not to erase Columbus Day from history, but rather to recognize, honor, and celebrate the Native American cultures and people who have inhabited the Americas since long before European explorers arrived.
Source: Old Farmer’s Almanac, “Columbus Day 2020,” Old Farmer’s Almanac, N.D., https://www.almanac.com/content/columbus-day.
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