The second Monday in October will be celebrated again this year as Columbus Day in honor of Christopher Columbus. For years, children in history classes were taught that Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who sailed west from Spain and discovered the New World.
Did Columbus Discover America?
School children learned that “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” But did he discover America? The indigenous populations living in America at the time knew their land was there and didn’t need to be discovered. Columbus landed on one of the islands in the Caribbean after months at sea, and the natives there soon found themselves forced to work for the Europeans, and later, Taino Indians from Hispaniola were sent to Spain as slaves.
Columbus in the New World
Columbus was sent to find the New World to provide riches and wealth for Spain, and he found personal wealth, as well. In exchange for the riches of the islands, the Europeans brought Christianity and diseases. Columbus made several trips to the islands of the Caribbean but did not land on the mainland of the continent. Even if he had, he would not have been the first European, as we now know that the Vikings from Scandinavia had explored the northern coast of the continent.
Celebrating Columbus Day
New York City takes credit as having the first celebration of Columbus on the 300th anniversary of the event. In 1892, President Harrison issued a proclamation to support the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the voyage. Many other cities have celebrated Columbus, often encouraged by organizations Americans of Italian heritage. New York has been holding a Columbus Day Parade since 1929. President Roosevelt designated October 12 as the official Columbus Day in 1937, but it was moved to the second Monday of October as a national holiday when federal holidays were moved to Mondays.
Should We Give the Holiday a New Name?
There is a movement to eliminate Columbus Day and replace it with “Native American Day,” and some cities have considered calling it “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” Columbus Day is still a federal holiday, so the Post Office and other federal government offices will be closed. States vary as to whether they declare a holiday, so some schools will close, while others remain open. Whatever your community has decided to do, it is a day to observe the arrival of the Spanish and Italians in the New World, which was certainly a turning point in the history of the continent.
Sources: history.com and biography.com