Columbus Day A Federal Holiday

Do you remember the rhyme Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492?  The rhyme captured the essence of an Italian explorer that children are taught to adore.  Indeed, the adoration of the explorer led to the establishment of the holiday that we call Columbus Day.

Columbus Day, is a federal holiday that is celebrated on the second Monday in October.  Since it is a federal holiday, most banks, schools, and federal agencies are closed on this day.  However, the holiday that children once cherished, has become a source of controversy that is caught in the political correct debate.[597]

The Historical View

Generations of children are told the infamous story of Christopher Columbus.  He was born around 1451 and lived until 1506.  His father was a poor weaver from Genoa.  Christopher Columbus challenged the idea that the world was flat.  He believed that he could get to the West Indies in a short voyage.  After a few attempts, Christopher Columbus received support from Queen Isabella to make the trip to America.[599]

Although Christopher Columbus was confident that he could make the journey, other people were not.  In fact, most of the crew on his ship were prisoners.  His voyage began on August 3, 1492 from Spain.  He had three ships the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria.  The ships that Columbus used were very differnt from the modern ships that we use today.  They were smaller and relied more on the ability of team to manuever them.  An example of a replica of the Santa Maria is included below.

Santa Maria
Credit: By Dietrich Bartel

The Holiday

It is believed that Columbus Day began in New York.  At one time it was a popular holiday in many states.  However, due to the limited number of holidays that employers are willing to allocate to employees, Columbus Day is disappearing.  In 2002, The Wall Street Journal found that only twenty two states gave their employees the day off for Columbus Day.[598]   Additionally, many states have swapped this holiday for another holiday. 

Some states are notorious for their Columbus Day celebrations.  These states usually have a high Italian American population.  For instance, New York holds a significant celebration complete with a parade.  In fact, the parade in New York is one of the biggest Columbus Day parades in the country.

The Controversy

Columbus Day has become a controversial day because of the sentiments of general public.  When Christopher Columbus landed, the entire population of native people were oppressed.  Many natives were enslaved.  An undisclosed number natives were killed. Due to the fact that there were native people already inhabiting the place that Christopher Columbus landed, many people insist that he did not really discover anything.[601] 

The controversy surrounding the holiday has erupted into public displays of protest.  Some organizers protest the holiday at its parades.  Others attempt to thwart the holiday celebrations.  Although many have tried, some the status of the holiday as a federal holiday has not been revoked.

The Significance

Despite the controversy Christopher Columbus did have a significant impact on history.  His courage to search for new territories inspired other explorers.  His journey also encouraged the trade between countries. 

Even people that do not want to honor the man behind the holiday can use the day as a way to take a good vacation.  It is undeniable that it provides a great opportunity to spend time with your family.  If you have kids, it might also be a great time to talk about exploration or geography in general.