Renaming Columbus Day
Photo from history.com
By Denise Nickerson
He sailed the ocean blue in 1492. I can remember hearing that abused phrase over and over throughout elementary, secondary, and high school. It’s the classic lesson we are all forced to hear each time of year; how Columbus discovered America. As kids, we grow up believing that Columbus is a hero; why, he’s the reason why we’re here!
We do arts and crafts in his honor, school plays depicting his arrival to America, and we even write letters to Columbus, stating how we feel about him or how cool we think he is. As children, none of us even doubt what are history teachers tell us, because everything were taught is the truth-it has to be, because their adults.
Well we were wrong.
As adults, we realize how fabricated the story of Christopher Columbus is, we realize he discovered a land which was already inhabited, and we realize that our school teachers left out a lot of important facts, such as Columbus being a genocidal tyrant.
I mean sure, today, children and young adults across U.S cheer for having a day off, and yes granted some of us also have the privilege of having a day off of work-but really, why do we celebrate Columbus Day? This article is an attempt to explore why we celebrate and recognize this day as a federal holiday, and along the way, we will discover some other explorers, who are very similar to Christopher Columbus, yet do not receive the same recognition.
According to history.com, for hundreds of years, Columbus Day (celebrated then on October 12), has always been a day that commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World. Yet, the day did not become a federal holiday until 1937, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, who declared the holiday was to be celebrated on the second Monday of October.
Today, for many people, this holiday is a way of both honoring Columbus’ achievements and celebrating Italian- American heritage. However, for others, Columbus Day is not worth celebrating. For instance, in California, Nevada, and Hawaii, Columbus Day is not an observed holiday. Moreover, some states have changed the name and/or meaning of the celebration, such as South Dakota, who celebrates Native American’s Day, or Indigenous People’s Day, celebrated in Berkeley, California.
So why do we celebrate it?
It seems that this answer is a bit more trivial than I thought. There’s no real distinct reason why we celebrate Columbus Day; it seems that we just do. As we have already seen, there is a bit of a debate between which states believe and disbelieve Columbus is a man worth celebrating. But what do the people think?
According to “The shame of Columbus Day,” by Arthur C. Donart, celebrating Columbus Day, is like celebrating Adolph Hitler Day. Likewise, in a similar article entitled, “Why We Should Abolish Columbus Day,” by Rebecca Dobbs, Dobbs states, “We should cease to celebrate Columbus Day, first because it is ludicrous to say a place already inhabited can be discovered; second because Columbus failed to add anything new to the pool of European knowledge; and finally because the celebration of Columbus sends a message of hostility to the very peoples who have paid most dearly to establish the great nation of which we are a part.”
However, on the other side, many people believe in Columbus Day. For instance, according to debate.org, an anonymous writer stated “we should celebrate Columbus’ spirit of exploration and discovery, because he had the courage and persistence to follow his ideas.” Similarly, another anonymous writer stated: “Columbus is a hero and without him where would Americans be today? Yes he hurt many but now we are here. I’m sorry people had to die but I’m also glad that I’m able to live.”
Why Columbus Day?
We all know that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, but what about all the other explorers before and after him? What about the explorers who made equal discoveries in America? For instance, according to Ebscohost.com, “Leif Ericson, a Viking explorer, is widely regarded as the first European to set foot in the New World, nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus.”
Why then do we not celebrate Ericson Day? Moreover, what about the explorer Henry Hudson, who during his voyage into the north Atlantic discovered and followed the Hudson River toward modern-day Albany, New York? No Hudson Day?
In short, what these explorers all have in common, is that they all discovered land which people had already inhabited, and therefore really did nothing more than simply come to the realization that there was other, better land and opportunities, besides their own countries. So why do we celebrate Columbus? It seems that the answers pretty clear, there are no real true reasons for celebrating him.
I believe that nothing sets Columbus aside from any other explorer’s discoveries, besides his greed and desire for money, power, and recognition; and perhaps that is why he is celebrated. I believe that celebrating Columbus’ “discovery,” is like honoring Adolf Hitler for his removal of millions of Jews. Should Hitler be celebrated for his “discoveries?”
Or perhaps we should acknowledge other genocidal tyrants such as Fidel Castro or Idi Amin, for their discoveries as well. In short, Christopher Columbus is no different from any other explorer, or any other genocidal tyrant, who used fear and murder, for their own personal gains. Therefore, there should be absolutely no reason why we should celebrate the life of any murderer.
Furthermore, I believe that we need to change the holiday, and honor the people who lost their lives during the Columbus exploration, because after all, the are the ones who truly suffered.