Columbus Day

From Academic Kids

Columbus Day is a holiday celebrated in many countries in the Americas, commemorating the date of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492. Similar holidays, celebrated as Día de la Raza (Day of the Race) in many countries in Latin America, Discovery Day in the Bahamas, Hispanic Day in Spain, and with the recently new name Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance) in Venezuela, commemorate the same event.


Columbus Day in the United States

Columbus Day is celebrated on the 2nd Monday in October. The first recorded celebration of Columbus Day in the USA was held by the Tammany Society, also known as the Colombian Order, in New York on October 12 1792, marking the 300th anniversary of Columbus's landing in the Bahamas.

Many Italian-Americans observe Columbus Day as a celebration of Italian-American heritage. Columbus Day was first celebrated by Italians in San Francisco in 1869, following on the heels of 1866 Italian celebrations in New York City. The first state celebration was in Colorado in 1905, and in 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set aside Columbus Day as a holiday in the United States. Since 1971, the holiday has been commemorated in the U.S. on the second Monday in October, the same day as Thanksgiving in neighboring Canada.

Banks are almost always closed on this day, as are government offices. It is not, however, recognized by most private American employers as a day off from work.

Día de la Raza

The date of Columbus' arrival in the Americas is celebrated in Latin America (and in some Latino communities in the USA) as the Día de la Raza ("day of the race"), commemorating the first encounters of Europe and the Americas which would produce the new Mestizo race, culture, and identity. The day was first celebrated in Argentina in 1917, Venezuela in 1921, Chile in 1923, and Mexico in 1928.

The day was also celebrated under this title in Spain until 1958, when it was changed to the "Día de la Hispanidad." In Spain, the "race" of reference in the original name was that of the Spanish people and did not reflect the mestizo characterization found in many Latin American countries.


Some people, particularly Native Americans, find the holiday offensive because they object to honoring a person whom they see as opening the door to European colonization, the exploitation of native peoples and the slave trade. In the United States, this has caused a persistent controversy between Native Americans and Italian Americans. Some communities, such as Berkeley, California, have renamed the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day. The state of South Dakota renamed the holiday Native American Day in 1989. In 2002, the Venezuelan government renamed the holiday to Día de la Resistencia Indígena ("Day of Indigenous Resistance"). In 2004, Venezuelan activists toppled a statue of Columbus in Caracas on the day of the celebration.

Some have argued that the responsibility of contemporary governments and their citizens for allegedly ongoing acts of genocide against Native Americans are masked by positive Columbus myths and celebrations. These critics argue that a particular understanding of the legacy of Columbus has been used to legitimize their actions, and it is this misuse of history that must be exposed. Thus, Ward Churchill (the controversial professor of Ethnic Studies at University of Colorado at Boulder, and a leader of the American Indian Movement), has argued that:

Very high on the list of those expressions of non-indigenous sensibility which contribute to the perpetuation of genocidal policies against Indians are the annual Columbus Day celebration, events in which it is baldly asserted that the process, events, and circumstances described above are, at best, either acceptable or unimportant. More often, the sentiments expressed by the participants are, quite frankly, that the fate of Native America embodied in Columbus and the Columbian legacy is a matter to be openly and enthusiastically applauded as an unrivaled "boon to all mankind". Undeniably, the situation of American Indians will not — in fact cannot — change for the better so long as such attitudes are deemed socially acceptable by the mainstream populace. Hence, such celebrations as Columbus Day must be stopped. (in "Bringing the Law Back Home")

The claim made here is that certain myths about Columbus, and celebrations of Columbus, make it easier for people today to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions, or the actions of their governments.

The archaeological discoveries at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland and other evidence for Vikings in the New World centuries before Columbus have promoted celebrations of Leif Erikson Day, sometimes as an alternative to Columbus Day, sometimes in addition to it. Leif Erikson and his longship crew are thought to have sailed to the coast of North America around the year 1000.

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