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Origins Of Columbus Day In The United States

Updated on January 11, 2010
The Origins Of Columbus Day
The Origins Of Columbus Day

In 1492 . . .

“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” is a common rhyme spoken by schoolchildren in the United States in early October.  The reason is simple; October 12 marks the date of Christopher’s Columbus’ arrival in the new world.  The day is celebrated in many different counties in the “new world” and has become a national holiday in the United States, although it is now without its controversies.

Columbus Day Honors Christopher Columbus, Who Is Credited With Discoverying America
Columbus Day Honors Christopher Columbus, Who Is Credited With Discoverying America
Many Celebrate Columbus Day With A Parade
Many Celebrate Columbus Day With A Parade

Observance in the United States.

New York City held the first recorded celebration of Columbus Day on October 12, 1792.  This celebration marked the 300th anniversary of Columbus finding the new world. The event was organized by a group called the Colombian Order which was composed of a large group of Italian Immigrants.  Later, San Francisco held a celebration honoring Columbus in 1869 organized by San Francisco’s large Italian population.

In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison issued a Presidential Proclamation that urged citizens to participate in celebrations honoring the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing.  President Harrison did not official declare a national day of observance however. 

In 1905, Colorado became the first state of officially observe Columbus Day.  In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt officially proclaimed October 12 as Columbus Day.  In 1971, President Nixon declared the second Monday of October a national holiday.  In the United States, the day is generally observed by banks, the post office and other government agencies; however most schools and businesses remain open.  Not all states observe Columbus Day however.  Alaska and Nevada do not officially celebrate Columbus Day at all.  Hawaii celebrates “Discover’s Day.”  Other states celebrate “Native Americans” day instead of Columbus Day. 

For the most part, most of the United States celebrates Columbus Day in one way or another.  In Columbus, Ohio, a giant parade is held through downtown.  The same is true in New York and Boston, mostly organized by Italian heritage groups.  Others celebrate Columbus Day by offering  history lessons on Columbus’ life and voyages and many schools mark this day by learning about Columbus’s finding of America.

Many Use Columbus Day To Protest And Raise Awareness To Native American Issues
Many Use Columbus Day To Protest And Raise Awareness To Native American Issues

Controversies Surrounding Honoring Christopher Columbus

While Columbus Day was supposed to mark a historical moment, to many it is remembered as a day of dishonor and is observed in protest.  Christopher Columbus many argued is not a historical figure to be honored but rather is a man who should be forgotten.  The reasons are many. 

First, Columbus upon discovery America enslaved and exploited the Native Americans whom he found already living in the New World.  Further, Columbus forced the native peoples he found into Christianity by force.  Lastly, with Columbus came disease that killed many of the indigenous peoples he came across. 

Because of this part of Columbus’ legacy, Columbus Day is a day that brings many protestors out in the streets to give voice to the plight of Native Americans of the past, and to their plight today. 


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    • bgpappa profile image

      bgpappa 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Fair point Charles. Hard to really celebrate when you learn what really happened. Thanks for stopping by

    • profile image

      Charles Hilton 5 years ago

      Good hub, bgpappa.

      The Columbus issue has gained resonance with me over the years as my knowledge of true American History has replaced the myth-history that is taught in our textbooks.

    • profile image

      Charles Hilton 5 years ago


      In the spirit of commemorating...

      "...human courage and determination to conquer tyranny, and human bloody-mindedness and our capacity for destruction..."

      wouldn't it be advisable to NOT celebrate the date of the Trinity Nuclear Test?

      In fact, I don't advocate celebrating war in any form, including D-Day.

      The more we make excuses for war, the more wars we'll make.

      Like many, I've learned that war is a lie, including the so-called 'just wars.'

      But, to each his own.

    • bgpappa profile image

      bgpappa 8 years ago from Sacramento, California

      I would support a move to commemorate D-Day more than just on the History Channel. Major turning point in our history and is an episode of unmatched heroism and sacrafice.

      Thanks for the comment

    • Tucci78 profile image

      Tucci78 8 years ago from New Jersey

      Being of southern Italian descent and conscious of the fact that the northern Italians who made up most of the immigrants reaching America's shores in the first seven or eight decades of the 19th Centuries (especially in the wake of the failed uprisings of 1848) made a powerful political effort to treat my ancestors from il Mezzogiorno as an entirely separate category of immigrants when quotas were set, I've never considered Columbus Day to constitute a celebration of my own ethnicity.

      He was, after all, a northerner, and not one of "my" people at all.

      I could see Columbus Day go unobserved without any regret whatsoever, and would equally recommend disestablishing Presidents' Day (the more we learn about that bunch, the more we realize that we have nothing to celebrate about them other than the fact that most of 'em are dead), Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, and such.

      Better by far we should celebrate February 11th (the birthday of Thomas Alva Edison), June 6th (the Normandy invasion), and October 15th (the date of the Trinity nuclear test, the world's first fission weapon's successful detonation).

      Those are dates upon which we can commemorate human ingenuity and achievement, human courage and determination to conquer tyranny, and human bloody-mindedness and our capacity for destruction on such a scale that it has literally scared the hell out of the "great powers" of our planet.