Since the 18th century, people have been celebrating the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Americas. But that begs one question: should we celebrate Columbus Day? From the origins to the evolution and to the huge opposition from today, we’re going to cover the major angles of this controversial festivity.

All countries across the globe have their own reasons for their choice of National Days. For France, it’s the fall of Bastille. For the US, it’s the remembrance of the Declaration of Independence that changed the fate of the nation forever. And although the 4th of July is the official National Day, one may argue that the day that shaped up the country as it is today should be just as acclaimed. In a sense, it is. And we know it as Columbus Day.

Columbus Day

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How many countries can pride themselves with the precise knowledge of how they came to be? For the US, this is a merry reality. There’s even an exact date attached to the events. Below are the major pieces of information that we should all know about Columbus Day.

When Is Columbus Day Celebrated?

Columbus Day is celebrated on October 12th. It’s a date that marks the day when Christopher Columbus first set foot on the land of the Bahamas in 1492, discovering the New World. The holiday isn’t strictly celebrated only in the United States. Countries of Latin America celebrate the event through a holiday called Dia de la Raza (Day of the Race). Spain also has its own equivalent, simply known as the Fiesta Nacional.

Columbus Day – The Journey

There are few things we don’t know about Christopher Columbus. If anything, we can all agree that the story of how he discovered the Americas has been told so many times that it nearly slipped into mythical territory. For starters, Columbus wasn’t actually the first one to stumble upon the American lands. This feat belongs to Vikings of the 10th century, who set up colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland.

It’s all the more baffling once you realize something amazing. It’s that Columbus hadn’t set sail from Spain with the sheer purpose to discover anything. Not only that, but he had a precise goal that had nothing to do with the outcome. The Italian explorer actually planned to prove that it was possible to get to China while traveling west. In fact, this only proves that he had no clue there was anything standing between Europe and Asia in the West.

For the longest of time, even when Columbus and his crew were stationed on American lands, he was certain he was actually in Asia. He often mistook places for China, Japan, or India. It was around the year of 1507 when he realized for the first time that this was land previously undiscovered.

Columbus Day Parade

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The Formation of Columbus Day

It took several centuries for Columbus Day to be officially labeled as a holiday. The earliest instance of a Columbus-related celebration was in 1792. The Columbian Order of New York hosted an event in celebration for the 300-year-old anniversary of the explorer’s arrival. Soon after, Italian and Catholic communities in the USA started taking pride in Columbus’ roots and faith. In no time, annual celebrations started showing up all over the country.

In 1892, the time for the 400-year-old anniversary, President Bejamin Harrison pushed celebrations forward. He prompted civilians to honor the explorer’s deed with patriotic and civil festivities.

However, it was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who set in stone the official form of the holiday. In 1942, he proclaimed October 12th as Columbus Day, a national celebration. However, this wasn’t entirely out of his free will, some say. Many deem it the result of the pressuring influence of a Catholic fraternal benefits organization.

Columbus Day Fun Facts

  • One tale speaks of a time when Columbus had allegedly managed to outsmart native Cubans by using an almanac. When the native Cubans decided to cut off food supplies for Columbus and his crew, he consulted an almanac. Afterwards, he ominously threatened the natives that he’d steal the moon. The day after, a moon eclipse followed. Bewildered and frightened, the natives restocked the supplies.
  • Columbus’ expedition introduced the Americas to a whole bunch of new things: wheat, sugar, bananas, rye, and citrus fruits. Americas also saw for the first time horses, sheep, cattle, pigs, and goats.
  • Because of its date and timing, Columbus Day is a great time for special retail deals. Since it’s right at the entrance of big holidays, many retailers need extra shelf space to make room for seasonal items.

Columbus Day Controversy

Many people argue that this celebration shouldn’t exist to begin with. They dispute Columbus’ image as a glorified hero. They do so by pressing that all he did was start the colonization of a land and that it ended in the deaths of millions of people. Moreover, when his crew arrived to the Americas, they also brought in a plethora of new diseases. The most ghastly examples include smallpox and influenza.

Because of this, plenty Native Americas elected to set up their own celebrations in the stead of Columbus Day. On that day, they commemorate the indigenous lives lost in the post-Columbus world.