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Columbus Day

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In August of 1492 an Italian by the name of Christopher Columbus, backed by Spanish monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, set sail to find, route and map a chart to Asia which was believed to hold islands of gold and spices. 

Two months later, on October 12th, Columbus made landfall in what is now known to be the Bahamas. At the time, he thought he had made it to his destination and later discovered Hispaniola, which he presumed to be Japan, and established the first colony of Spain. It was not until he had made the journey to Europe and back several more times before realizing he had not in fact made it to Asia at all.

The colonization of that first colony is what sparked the so-called discovery of the Americas, though the Vikings had to been there long before, during the 10th century. The first official celebration of Columbus Day in the United States took place in 1792 when the Columbian Order of New York held an event to honor the 300th Anniversary of that first landfall. Then in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison released a statement encouraging Americans not to work and instead honor the country's history, “On that day let the people, so far as possible, cease from toil and devote themselves to such exercises as may best express honor to the discoverer and their appreciation of the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life.”

It wasn't until Franklin D. Roosevelt took over office and officially made Columbus Day a national holiday in 1937. Originally the holiday was to take place on October 12th each year, but then in 1971 the holiday was changed to instead fall on the second Monday of October.

Opposition of the holiday began in the 19th century because of the killings and slavery that took place for the indigenous people that had already lived here before Columbus arrived. Many cities throughout the U.S. have changed Columbus Day and how they celebrate it. In 1989, South Dakota started calling the holiday Native American Day. In 1992, Berkley, California changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. The state of Alabama celebrates a mixture of Columbus Day and American Indian Heritage Day, while the Bahamas and Hawaii consider it Discovery Day.

For the cities that celebrate the indigenous people on this day, you can find activities such as pow-wows (a social gathering in Native American communities), traditional dances, and lessons about the Native American culture. While the cities that still celebrate the holiday as Columbus Day hold parades, street fairs, wear colorful costumes, and indulge in Italian music and food. The most important part of this holiday no matter what you call it, is celebrating one another and the accomplishments that together we have made.

Works Cited

History.com Staff. “Columbus Day.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2010, www.history.com/topics/exploration/columbus-day.

Strauss, Valerie. “Why Is Columbus Day Still a U.S. Federal Holiday?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 11 Oct. 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/10/11/why-is-columbus-day-still-a-u-s-federal-holiday/?utm_term=.35054407f598.


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