ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Why Celebrate Columbus Day

Updated on August 21, 2015

Every October 12, the United States and several other countries have a holiday. In the United States, the celebrations are always on a Monday to give workers a three-day weekend. Traditionally, this has been held in honor of Christopher Columbus's discovery of the New World. It was on this date that the fleet of the Genoese explorer that was on the edge of a mutiny sighted land in the distance. It is now believed that this was probably Watling Island, a small strip of land in the Bahamian chain. Columbus named it San Salvador and claimed it for Spain. It is this "discovery" that gets celebrated, although there is quite a bit of controversy related to Columbus.

US postage stamp depicting Leif Ericson
US postage stamp depicting Leif Ericson | Source

Who Really Discovered America?

It is pretty obvious that Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus's actual name) did not discover the New World. Columbus himself recognized that there were many people on the many islands that he visited on his four trips to the Western Hemisphere. How did they get here? The most common explanation is the Bering Land Bridge, as strip of land that connected Siberia and Alaska until enough glaciers melted to raise ocean levels sufficiently to submerge the bridge. From there, the Native Americans diffused throughout the Americas in short order.

The most recent estimates as to the actual population of the New World when Columbus arrived is somewhere between 60-70 million. It is quite obvious that Columbus did not discover America. There are also legends of other peoples making it to a land in the west, one of the most famous of which is the legend of St. Brenden, an Irish monk. It is possible that a stray boat from Europe, Africa, or Asia occasionally made it to the Western Hemisphere, but any such visits made little impact.

The first European to definitely make it to the New World was Leif Ericson, a Viking who reached Newfoundland around AD 1000. This voyage was questioned for a long time, but archaeological discoveries in the areas inhabited by the Viking colony definitely made it clear that Ericson made it to the New World about 500 years before the more famous Columbus.

Famous painting depicting Columbus's landfall in the New World.
Famous painting depicting Columbus's landfall in the New World. | Source

Was Columbus a Great Explorer?

There is no doubt that Columbus was a daring explorer. He was not alone in thinking that the riches of China and India could be reached by sailing west. Most educated people believed the world was round, unlike the common argument that people thought the world was flat. The Genoese mariner was bold enough to get funding for such a voyage.

Columbus never actually understood that he reached another hemisphere. He went to his grave thinking he reached Asia, rather than what would become known as the Americas. He called the indigenous peoples "Indians" because he thought he was in the East Indies. He was mistaken in his ultimate success.

One thing that makes Columbus a controversial character was his treatment of the people that he met. His diary says that he thought they could be "made to work" for the Spanish, and Columbus tried to enslave the Indians. The arrival of the Europeans was devastating to the people who lived in the Americas. It is estimated that around 90% of the population died as a result of European warfare and disease. There is no doubt that Columbus was a great explorer, but the ramifications of his "discoveries" make the celebration of Columbus Day quite controversial.

Why Is Columbus Important?

In spite of the negative results of his explorations and the fact that he did not "discover" the New World, Columbus is nevertheless important in world history. It was the voyage of Columbus in 1492 that spurred continuous interaction between the two hemispheres. It also led to the rise of Spain as a world power because of the economic exploitation that sent massive amounts of gold and silver that made their way back to the mother country.

The Columbian Exchange

Scholars have also talked about the importance of the diffusion of various foodstuffs, animals, technology, and diseases that came about after Columbus. Alfred Crosby was one of the first to discuss this environmental history in his book first published in the 1970s that was titled The Columbian Exchange. Crosby emphasized the new food such as potatoes and maize (corn) that made it to the Old World and increased caloric intake in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

New Animals

The New World had no beasts of burden. Only dogs and llamas were actually domesticated. The Europeans brought cows, horses, and pigs, and these new animals greatly changed the environment. Pigs and cows that ran free would frequently destroy native crops and lead to anger from the Indians. Horses and more advanced weaponry aided the Europeans militarily as they defeated the great Empires of the New World.

Sharing Diseases

Finally, disease caused problems for both regions. The Europeans brought childhood diseases like measles and mumps and nasty bugs like smallpox. All were equally deadly to the indigenous peoples and led to a massive number of deaths as mentioned above. The Indians probably gave the Europeans a gift, as well. It is widely believed that contact with the Native Americans brought syphilis to the Old World. This was especially virulent in the first generation in Europe.

It quickly becomes quite evident that Columbus was important because of the Columbian Exchange and the fact that continuous interaction between the cultures essentially began after Columbus (although it is likely that it would not have been long before someone else made the "discovery").


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)