Thankful Americans ostensibly have a day off every October to celebrate explorer Christopher Columbus’ life. The latter was regarded as the discoverer of the Americas, though it was sharply shot down in flames after years and years of research. Now, he is only credited for the less-compelling honor of being the first European to reach and survey the ‘New World’ after the Vikings did it in the 11th century.
So why do Americans observe a holiday for an explorer who never discovered and set foot in their country? Well, things are more complicated than you think.
The Revolutionary War holds the answer to the question. As the United States fought the British for their freedom, they needed a heroic figure that would ignite the fire within the soldiers and the masses. Christopher Columbus was perfect for the symbol at that time. He was a defiant, non-British explorer who sailed on uncharted waters, and left his country, hunting for opportunities.
Since then, cities and streets were named after Columbus. Furthermore, different biographies and stories about his discovery solidified his image as America’s rightful discoverer. However, it was in the latter part of the 1800s, when a large number of Italian immigrants began moving to the United States, that Columbus’ myth skyrocketed in popularity.
Italians then were dealing with cruel discrimination, worsened by their Catholic ideologies and faith. Seemingly like the US, when it fought off for its freedom against the British oppressors, the immigrants from Italy and had to find a figure or hero to fuel them up from their situation. Backed by the Knights of Columbus, their Catholic organization, no one else was fit to be their heroic symbol other than Columbus. Why not? He was an Italian himself, a Catholic, and has already built an admirable reputation.
With that, Columbus Day was informally observed by different Catholic-American and -Italian communities as Columbus served an uplifting figure amid the common anti-Italian and anti-Catholic sentiments during the said era.
In 1907, a century later, Columbus Day was first officially observed in the state of Colorado. Siro Mangini and Angelo, both Italian immigrants, worked and coordinated with Senator Casimiro Bela for the passage of the holiday into law. Then, thirty-years after, it was named as a national holiday in President Franklin D Roosevelt’s term. Bolstered by the Knights of Columbus, it was declared as a regular holiday for October 12. But, Congress then moved the celebration to every second Monday of October.
Most Americans only consider Columbus Day as a chance to take a day off from work. However, some cities actually have host parades to celebrate the holiday. Boston and New York have a decent number of Columbus Day attendees. Meanwhile, San Francisco changes the name of the celebration to the Italian Heritage Parade.
Most Italian-Americans find the holiday as the perfect time to show their pride through activities such as playing music, dressing up, and cooking renowned Italian food.
Other states, however, acknowledged what really transpired in history and decided not to celebrate the holiday at all. A day commemorating their indigenous people has replaced the Columbus occasion.
The Indigenous Peoples Day, the famous alternative, commemorates the native communities of North America. It is adopted by different cities, such as Seattle in Washington, Albuquerque in New Mexico, and Berkeley in California. Another city that embraced the Indigenous Peoples Day is Los Angeles, replacing Columbus Day starting in 2019.
Meanwhile, Hawaii has its own Discoverer’s Day, which celebrates the arrival of their Polynesian settlers, and the state of South Dakota that observes a similar holiday every second Monday of October, the Native American Day.
Christopher Columbus (Wikipedia)