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Columbus Day

Columbus Day
First Landing of Columbus on the Shores of the New World, after the painting by Discoro Téofilo de la Puebla Observed by USA, some Latin Americancountries, SpainType Historical Significance A celebration honoring Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the Americas in 1492 Date second Monday in October (USA); October 12(actual/traditional) 2007 date October 8(USA) 2008 date October 13(USA) 2009 date October 12(USA) Related to Día de la Raza in many Latin American countries, Discovery Dayin The Bahamas, Hispanic Dayin Spain, Día de las Culturas in Costa Ricaand Día de la Resistencia Indígenain Venezuela. Also, Thanksgiving in Canada, which falls on the same date.

Columbus Day is a holiday in the United States celebrating the anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas, which happened on the October 12, 1492 in the Julian calendar, or October 21, 1492 in the modern Gregorian calendar. Similar holidays, celebrated as Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) in many countries in Latin America, Día de las Culturas (Day of the Cultures) in Costa Rica, Discovery Day in The Bahamas, Día de la Hispanidad and National Day in Spain, Discoverer's Day in Hawaii, and the newly renamed (as of 2002) Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance) in Venezuela, Discovery Day also in Colombia , commemorate the same event.


Encounter with the Americas

Further information: Christopher Columbus, European colonization of the Americas

Columbus Day commemorates Columbus' famed expedition across the Atlantic Ocean, in which he hoped to find a naval route to India. Instead, he found an entire continent that was mostly unknown to Europeans at the time. While other Europeans had sporadically visited the Americas earlier, and there are varied theories of even earlier contact by East Asians, Phoenicians, and others, Columbus' expedition triggered the great wave of European interest in the New World. Unlike the earlier visitors, Columbus aggressively popularized his discoveries and arranged for return voyages.

United States observance

The first Columbus Day celebration was held in 1792, when New York City celebrated the 300th anniversary of his landing in the New World. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison called upon the people of the United States to celebrate Columbus Day on the 400th anniversary of the event.

Some Italian-Americans observe Columbus Day as a celebration of their heritage, the first occasion being in New York City on October 12, 1866.[1] [2] Columbus Day was popularized as a holiday in the United States by a lawyer, a son of Genoese immigrants who came to California. During the 1850s, Genoese immigrants settled and built ranches along the Sierra Nevada foothills. As the gold ran out, these skilled "Cal-Italians", from the Apennines, were able to prosper as self-sufficient farmers in the Mediterranean climate of Northern California. San Francisco has the second oldest Columbus Day celebration, with Italians having commemorated it there since 1869.

This lawyer then moved to Colorado, which had a population of Genoese miners, and where, in 1907, the first state-wide celebration was held. In 1934, at the behest of the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic fraternal service organization named for the voyager), Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set aside Columbus Day, October 12, as a Federal holiday (36 USC 107, ch. 184, 48 Stat. 657).

Since 1971, the holiday has been commemorated in the U.S. on the second Monday in October, the same day as Thanksgiving in neighboring Canada. It is generally observed today by banks, the bond market, the US Postal Service other federal agencies, and most state government offices; however, most businesses, stock exchanges, and most school districts remain open (with the notable exception of the New York City metropolitan area where most schools are closed).

States and city observations


The city of Berkeley celebrates Indigenous People's Day instead of Columbus Day.


The Columbus Day parade in Denver has been protested by American Indian groups and their supporters for nearly two decades. Denver has the longest running parade in the United States. [3]


Further information: Discoverer's Day
Discoverer's Day is celebrated on the second Monday of October in Hawaii; it honors Captain James Cook as the first European to document Hawaiian society.

Hawaii does not officially honor Columbus day and instead celebrates Discoverer's Day on the same day, i.e., on the second Monday of each October. While many in Hawaii still celebrate the life of Columbus on Columbus Day, the alternative holiday also honors James Cook, the British navigator that became the first person to record the coordinates of the Hawaiian Islands and share with the world the existence of the ancient Hawaiian people and society. Some people interpret the holiday as a celebration of all discoveries relative to the ancient and modern societies of Hawaii.

Many Native Hawaiians decry the celebration of both Columbus and Cook, known to have committed acts of violent subjugation of native people. Discoverer's Day is a day of protest for some advocacy groups. A popular protest site is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace and the Chancery building of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu. Such advocacy groups have been commemorating the Discoverer's Day holiday as their own alternative, Indigenous Peoples Day. The week is called Indigenous Peoples Week.


Columbus Day is not a legal holiday in Nevada, but it is a day of observance. Schools and state, city and county government offices are open for business on Columbus Day.[4]

South Dakota

In the state of South Dakota, the day is officially a state holiday known as "Native American Day", not Columbus Day.[5]

Día de la Raza

The date of Columbus' arrival in the Americas is celebrated in Latin America (and in some Latino communities in the USA) as the Día de la Raza ("day of the people"), commemorating the first encounters of Europe and Native Americans. The day was first celebrated in Argentina in 1917, Venezuela in 1921, Chile in 1923, and Mexico in 1928. The day was also celebrated under this title in Spain until 1957, when it was changed to the "Día de la Hispanidad" ("Hispanic Day").

In 2002, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela changed the name to "Día de la Resistencia Indígena" ("Day of Indigenous Resistance"). This is celebrated on Columbus Day, instead of celebrating Christopher Columbus, they celebrate the different races.

Opposition to Columbus Day

In A People's History of the United States, historian Howard Zinn discusses the cruelty he says Columbus inflicted upon Native Americans and how it was comparable to the genocidal acts of World War II. Zinn accuses Columbus of being a religious fanatic with an obsession of eliminating non-Christians, by means of murder, conversion, or at the very least, enslavement. He claims that Columbus was in search of personal wealth and fame, one who was willing to step over others or even kill them to achieve it. Allegedly, Columbus may have used more force than he admitted to his superiors. However, some assume that Columbus' subordinates were more responsible for the vast majority of the carnage carried out. Columbus himself claimed that he warned his men against taking advantage of the natives, as he had planned to eventually convert them to Christianity. A Spanish priest who traveled to Hispaniola wrote that he was appalled to witness dehumanizing acts of cruelty being inflicted on the Indians, such as torture used to subjugate their leaders. Many of the natives ended up dying from starvation, disease, or simply being overworked.

Opposition to the holiday cites this cruelty committed by those under Columbus' leadership and that of many of the following conquistadors. Columbus directly brought about the demise of many Taino (Arawak) Indians on the island of Hispaniola,[citation needed] and the arrival of the Europeans indirectly caused the deaths of many indigenous peoples by bringing diseases previously unknown in the "New World." An estimated 85% of the Native American population was wiped out within 150 years of Columbus' arrival in America, due largely to diseases such as smallpox that spread among Native populations. Additionally, ensuing war and the appropriation of land and material wealth by European colonists also contributed to the decline of the indigenous populations in the Americas.[6]

In the summer of 1990, 350 Native Americans, representatives from all over the hemisphere, met in Quito, Ecuador, at the first Intercontinental Gathering of Indigenous People in the Americas, to mobilize against the quincentennial celebration of Columbus Day. The following summer, in Davis, California, more than a hundred Native Americans gathered for a follow-up meeting to the Quito conference. They declared October 12, 1992, International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People.

The largest ecumenical body in the United States, the National Council of Churches, called on Christians to refrain from celebrating the Columbus quincentennial, saying, "What represented newness of freedom, hope, and opportunity for some was the occasion for oppression, degradation and genocide for others."[7]

See also


  1. ^ Charles Speroni, "The Development of the Columbus Day Pageant of San Francisco," Western Folklore, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Oct., 1948), pp. 325-335.
  2. ^ U.S. State Department, Bureau of International Information Programs, Holidays: Columbus Day.
  3. ^ Keith Coffman, Columbus Day protest in Denver leads to arrests, Reuters, Oct. 6, 2007.
  4. ^ Nevada Revised Statutes.
  5. ^ South Dakota Codified Laws.
  6. ^ Kenneth C. Davis, Don't Know Much About American History, p. 10.
  7. ^ A Faithful Response to the 500th Anniversary of the Arrival of Christopher Columbus in A Resolution of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, paragraph 1.

External links

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