Monday, October 10, 2011

Is Columbus Day A "Real" Holiday?

Today is Columbus Day, commemorating Columbus' arrival in 'The Americas' on October 12,1492.  The broad term 'The Americas' obscures the awkward fact that what Columbus really did was sail among several Caribbean Islands. On October 12th, he made landfall in The Bahamas, followed by Cuba on October 28th, and Haiti on December 5th, before returning to Europe in January 1493.

Though it's been celebrated in America since colonial times and even though it's been a federal holiday in the United States since 1937, it's one of those holidays that's observed widely differently across the country. In some places like New York City there are big parades.  In contrast, Hawaii, Alaska and South Dakota do not observe Columbus Day at all.  Many other states, including California and Texas, no longer treat it as a paid holiday for government workers, but still treat it as a 'day of recognition.' (A 'Day of Recognition' seems like the holiday equivalent of an 'unfunded mandate' to me.)

There are probably a number of reasons for this divergent treatment of Columbus Day.  But one factor that's been an issue for my entire life certainly is modern resistance to the colloquialism that "Columbus Discovered America" and an increasingly universal recognition of the catastrophic impact of the arrival of Europeans on the indigenous populations of Native Americans.

But there's apparently been organized resistance to the holiday dating back to the 19th Century, albeit for entirely different reasons.  Back then, Columbus' Italian heritage caused the holiday to be associated with Italian immigrants from Europe, by both its proponents and opponents.  As a result, Columbus Day was seen by some (especially Nativists opposed to further immigration) as a sinister effort to expand the influence of Catholicism in the United States.

1 comment:

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