Columbus Day is celebrated in the United States on the second Monday in October. As a matter of fact, in many countries in the Western Hemisphere, Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World on October 12, 1492 is remembered and celebrated as a holiday.
The day is called "Día de la Raza," "Discovery Day," or "Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural" (Day of respect for cultural diversity) in Latin America. The holiday recognizes that on this day the lands we now call the Americas became part of the "known world."
Columbus Day becomes a federal holiday in 1937
It wasn't until 1937 that Columbus Day became a federal holiday, even though Columbus' voyage to the Americas had been celebrated since colonial times. In 1792, New York City had a big celebration on the 300th anniversary of Columbus' landing, and in 1892, the 400th anniversary was used to teach patriotism, love of country, support for war and the importance of social values to students all across the nation.
Italian-Americans embraces the new holiday, making it a celebration of their heritage, the first celebration taking place in New York City on Oct. 12, 1866. It was a first-generation Italian-American, Angelo Noce, who lobbied for Columbus Day to be made a legal holiday in the U.S.
Today, most school districts, banks, the U.S. Postal Service and other federal agencies observe the holiday, as well as most state governments. Three states, Hawaii, Alaska and South Dakota do not recognize the holiday at all. In South Dakota, the day is observed as a state holiday, Native American Day.
Opposition to Columbus Day
Not everyone is happy with Columbus Day being celebrated as a holiday, and protests over its inclusion as a holiday celebrating the landing of Columbus in the New World have been going on for decades. Those protesting the holiday point to the decimation of a culture through the spread of disease, ignorance and warfare as a primary reason for doing away with it.
More telling is the reasoning being used today to do away with the holiday. Many people want to change the focus of the holiday, making it "Native American Day." They remind us that it was the first people to set foot in what is now North America who are the real discoverers of this land.
If California Assembly member Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina), has his way, the Golden State will be the next state to do away with Columbus Day, making the day "Native American Day. His bill, AB55, was proposed on Monday, Oct. 7.
Telling a reporter from the Huffington Post that the bill wasn't an attempt to rewrite history, Hernandez explained, "We just want to provide recognition and credit to the true discoverers of the land."
Hernandez also likened Columbus Day to Holocaust Remembrance Day, saying:
"When we honor the victims that have suffered from genocide in Germany, it isn't to be anti-German," he explained. "It's to bring proper recognition to people who have suffered and been displaced. This bill is looking to do that for the original settlers in the Americas."
Perhaps reevaluation of the holiday is in order. After all, what do we do on this holiday? There are sales everywhere, with businesses hoping to get a big chunk of the action before the pre-Thanksgiving sales rush. More important, it's that extra day of leisure for many workers as well as an extra day to sleep in late for the kids. Most cities don't even have big parades or celebrations anymore. Think about it.....