What is Columbus Day?
The History Behind Columbus Day
By Cara J. Stevens
Get ready to discover a whole "new world" of information about the navigator Christopher Columbus, and the American holiday named after him--Columbus Day. Try creating our crafts, recipes, and other activities to celebrate the day.
In the United States, Columbus Day is always celebrated on the second Monday in October. In 2008, Columbus Day is celebrated on Monday, October 13.
The first Columbus Day was celebrated in New York in 1792 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ historic arrival.
Why Is Columbus Day Celebrated?
“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…"
On October 12, 1492, the Italian seaman Christopher Columbus first stepped foot on the soil of the Americas, bringing with him European culture, goods, religion and practices. While other Europeans and Asians had arrived in the “New World” before him, Columbus publicized his discoveries throughout Europe, which spurred a wave of exploration and expansion throughout the Americas.
Ironically, Columbus did not plan on discovering a “New World”. He left Iberia with the blessing (and financing) of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, hoping to arrive in the Indies, a series of islands in South East Asia that Spain frequently traded with through long and expensive journeys on land. His goal was to find a quicker, water-based route instead.
But what Columbus wasn't aware of was the existence of the land masses of North and South America. So when he sailed west, he didn't land in the Indies, but rather he anchored in the Bahamas at a place he named “San Salvador”. When he came ashore on San Salvador, he mistook the native people for natives of India, calling them Indians, a misnomer which stands to this day. In fact, Columbus returned to the Americas three more times over the course of 12 years without knowing that he had arrived in an uncharted land, halfway around the globe from his intended destination!
How Is Columbus Day Observed?
Columbus Day is marked as a national holiday in the United States, with most banks, some financial markets, federal agencies such as the US Postal Service, most state government offices, and many school districts closed for the day. It is celebrated throughout the Americas (North America, Central America and South America) on the same day, although the celebration, and its reasons, varies widely.
For example, in Hawaii, it is Discoverer’s Day, combining Christopher Columbus’s explorations with those of Captain James Cook, who charted the Hawaiian Islands and celebrated the ancient people and their culture. In most states in the U.S., Columbus Day is met with parades and salutes to Italian American Culture.
In Canada, Columbus Day is celebrated in conjunction with Thanksgiving. In most of Latin America, the Día de la Raza ("Day of the Race") celebrates the first encounter between indigenous people and Europeans. In Venezuela, the day is now known as "Día de la Resistencia Indígena" ("Day of Indigenous Resistance").
Cara J. Stevens is a freelance writer.