Columbus Day is the day on which Americans commemorate the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. Most states recognize the day as an official holiday. It should be noted that in most of the states that do not recognize it as an official holiday, schools and state services are still closed and it is considered a day of observance or recognition. Only in four states is the day not recognized at all. The Italian-born explorer arrived in the New World on October 12, 1492 and Columbus Day is observed on the second Monday in October.
His voyage was backed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain and had begun two months earlier with the goal of him charting a sea route to China and India.
He has been widely portrayed as the first European to discover the Americas. While it is now believed that Viking explorers preceded him, Columbus Day is still celebrated by many.
Historical Controversies Regarding Columbus Day
The holiday is somewhat controversial on a number of fronts. The first opposition to making it a holiday was largely from anti-immigrant groups that objected to the holiday's association with Roman Catholicism. The day also continues to be controversial because the European settlement of the Americas resulted in the genocide of the Native Americans.
The common depiction of Christopher Columbus has been (up until recently) as a heroic explorer. This perception of him has been called into question as he is known to have forced natives into slavery upon his arrival in the Bahamas, including six on his very first day in the New World. He is also believed to have enforced torture and other barbaric punishments during his time as governor of Hispaniola.
The First Columbus Day Celebrations
The day was first celebrated in New York's Tammany Hall at an event to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the explorer's arrival in the New World. This event was held in 1792. After this, Italian communities in different parts of the US began to organize parades to honor the explorer. The state of Colorado was the first to set aside a specific day to honor him.
President Benjamin Harrison would issue a proclamation encouraging Americans to honor the explorer in 1892 and in 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt would make Columbus Day federally observed after heavy lobbying by the Knights of Columbus. It would be proclaimed a National Holiday in 1972 by Richard Nixon.