Columbus Day… reconsidered…

Posted on October 10, 2011 by


While I’m grateful to have the day off, I really have to wonder when Columbus Day will become passe. I mean, after all, look at 1) why Columbus Day was started in the first place, and 2) what we’ve discovered in historical research that may question why we celebrate the day at all. I know some who think we should even begin to recognize Leif Ericson more than Columbus!

O.k., but, really, what are the roots for Columbus Day? Here’s the leading paragraph in Wikipedia regarding the History of Columbus Day…

Columbus Day first became an official state holiday in Colorado in 1906, and became a federal holiday in 1937. However, people have celebrated Columbus’s voyage since the colonial period. In 1792, New York City and other U.S. cities 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. During the four hundredth anniversary, in 1892, teachers, preachers, poets and politicians used Columbus Day rituals to teach ideals of patriotism. These patriotic rituals were framed around themes such as support for war, citizenship boundaries, the importance of loyalty to the nation, and celebrating social progress


Here’s the thing. The United States… well, at least the 13 original colonies… were English, and of course, included a smattering of other western European cultures that often found themselves at odds with the Spanish and Portuguese. Yes, in some ways, I suppose Columbus mattered to these people in the original 13, in the long run (and, perhaps, only in retrospect), because he marks a critical point in what became the “colonization race” that eventually led to what became the United States… although, I think it’s a long reach to recognize CC. He was a critical element in triggering it all, but, really, to the English, his “discovery” signaled the beginning of the race to wrench what they could from the Spanish, in order to get a piece of the pie… and, to say nothing of the veritable holy war for dominance in the new world between Catholicism and Protestantism. Then, if we consider the beginning of the end for Native American populations… geez… this guy Columbus was just the beginning of all sorts of hate and discontent! Granted, if it wasn’t him, it would have been somebody else.

Also, I have to say, I’m a bit bent out of shape over how Columbus Day was used in 1892… “to teach ideals of patriotism. These patriotic rituals were framed around themes such as support for war, citizenship boundaries, the importance of loyalty to the nation, and celebrating social progress.” Really?! I just don’t see these sort of connections with Christopher Columbus. How did they see, in Columbus, a focal point for patriotism? And, as far as that “support for war” things goes… that’s just funny when we consider the man at the center of it all (and even funnier when we consider the war that would soon follow, in 1898). After all, Columbus represents what became part of the “other side” (considered, of course, from the perspective of the original 13 colonies) in a series of European struggles for dominance in the “new world”, which may well have turned out differently… with no United States of America, at the end of it all. Not to mention, his discovery marked (as mentioned above) the beginning of the end for Native Americans, and eventually lead to a slave industry that did nothing but expand (and not by trade alone) for the next 350+ years (I added the “+” because African slavery didn’t end in the Americas, with the end of the American Civil War).

So, really, do we have reason to thank… and/or recognize Columbus, or should we begin to reconsider the meaning of the day, in relation to the history of the United States? Should there, instead, be a “Discovers’ Day”, or a “Discovery Day”? Jokingly, this morning, I started off by greeting friend on Facebook with a “Happy Christopher Newport Day!”… and, for those who are Shenandoah Valley-centric… “Happy Franz Louis Michel Day!” Keep in mind the reasons why Columbus Day was recognized over the past, and not the way that you may see it, from personal perspective today. OR… is Columbus Day just another day off, in yet another series of holidays with shallow or no meaning at all… other than the sale down at the mall?