Rethinking Columbus Day

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue and found a land inhabited by other people. Christopher Columbus believed he had visited Asia, and it was Amerigo Vespucci who finally proved that the lands visited – not discovered – by Columbus were in fact a landmass previously unknown to most Europeans. I say most Europeans because the Vikings had visited the northern part of the Americas almost 500 years before the voyage of Columbus.
Despite not realizing the land was not Asia and not actually discovering anything, 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.” adds, “In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation encouraging Americans to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage with patriotic festivities, writing, ‘On that day let the people, so far as possible, 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.’
In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday, largely as a result of intense lobbying by the Knights of Columbus.”
Despite being a federal holiday, Alaska, Hawai’i & Oregon have never officially recognized Columbus Day as a state holiday, and in recent years the trend has gone away from celebrating Columbus to focusing on the people Columbus encountered. UPI reports, on October 5, the “Phoenix City Council unanimously approved the request [to officially declare the second Monday in October… Indigenous Peoples’ Day] which aims to celebrate Phoenix’s indigenous community.” On the same day, the “Cincinnati City Council rejected the idea… with five of the city’s nine council members abstaining from the vote.”
The State of Vermont, however, is on the list of places celebrating Indigenous People’s Day instead of, or in addition to, Columbus Day. That list also includes Seattle, Minneapolis, Denver and over 20 other cities across the country.
Some people may argue that changing the holiday, that is mostly good for promotional sales and possibly a paid day off, is trying to remove or rewrite history. I take a different approach, in that I think holidays, for the most part, are excuses to get drunk and buy things at a discount. After a certain amount of time, holiday traditions change and people forget the original reason for the holiday. Also, any holiday designed to celebrate another human being will eventually cause people to question the details of that persons life. In the case of Columbus, we know he did not actually discover anything, and he violated the rights of the people he encountered. If you must have a holiday on the second Monday of October, a holiday remembering the people whose lives were altered by Columbus is something worth thinking about.