Discovery Day in Haiti is on December 5 every year and commemorates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the island in 1492. The date is an important holiday in many countries, but especially so in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Its framing has shifted over time, of course, as times change as well. Haiti still observes the day anyway, as it is an undeniably significant moment that scripted its history. The roots of unified Haitian identity and fierce collective resolve lie in Discovery Day. Every year, the country celebrates with lively performances, street festivals, and feasting.
History of Discovery Day (Haiti)
During the 15th century, the indigenous Taino communities lived on a large island in the Caribbean Sea. They called this island “Ayiti,” or “mountainous land.” This island had been their home for millennia, but the world as they knew it changed forever when Christopher Columbus landed in December 1492. With the support of the Spanish monarchy, the Italian explorer was on a quest to Asia when he stumbled upon the New World instead. The Spaniards settled in the Caribbean islands, and as the Taino population saw its numbers drastically reduced due to colonization and persecution. Columbus re-named the island “La Isla Española,” later shortened to ‘Española.’
By 1664, Spain became involved in territorial disputes with France, who had also begun colonizing the region. France founded the colony of Saint-Domingue in the western part of the island. After numerous clashes, the two countries officially divided the island into two. Thus, the west belonged to France, while the rest came under Spanish rule. There’s even a Latinized version of the island’s name, Hispaniola. Eventually, it became standard practice to use Hispaniola while describing the entire island, whether in historical accounts or official correspondence.
When the French Revolution broke out in 1784, free people of color living in French-occupied ‘Hispaniola’ took up arms against the French. The people were victorious, despite facing the might of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. On January 1, 1804, the nation of Haiti was born. It was the first independent nation of the Caribbean and the second republic of the New World after the United States. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the revolutionary hero, named the new country Haiti to honor the island’s first peoples.
Discovery Day (Haiti) timeline
The Taino and Carib tribes inhabit what is now Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
Christopher Columbus arrives on the island and claims to have discovered the New World.
France and Spain fight for control over the island.
The people's revolution against French colonizers is successful.
Discovery Day (Haiti) FAQs
Is Discovery Day a national holiday?
Discovery Day is not a public holiday in Haiti. The country observes the day through several events and activities.
Who actually discovered America first?
Before Christopher Columbus, a group of Vikings led by Leif Eriksson was the first to arrive in North America and establish a settlement. Columbus was one of the last explorers to land in the Americas.
What is Cayman Discovery Day?
Discovery Day commemorates Christopher Columbus’s discovery of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman in 1503. It is an annual public holiday that falls on the third Monday in May.
How to Observe Discovery Day (Haiti)
Learn the history
Read about Haiti and its incredible journey to freedom. The tiny nation defeated Napoleon’s army and French colonists!
Think about the flip side
Use Discovery Day to amplify Haiti’s story before Columbus arrived. Let today be an homage to the autochthonous communities and not just an echo of colonial times.
Plan a beach vacation to Haiti. The country has miles of stunning coastline. It is, arguably, the Caribbean’s finest destination.
5 Facts About Haiti That Will Blow Your Mind
It’s very mountainous
Haiti’s incredible mountain peaks tower up to 8,000 feet, and it is the most mountainous Caribbean country.
It’s a pioneering country
The Haitian Revolution was the only successful revolt led by enslaved people of all time and the first one to abolish slavery.
Voodoo is central
Haiti is the only country that considers Voodoo an official religion.
It has cave paintings
Caves across Haiti contain paintings by the Taino people and are considered national symbols.
Haiti runs on tourism
Haiti is a hub for tourism — an industry that generates over $200 million for the country.
Why Discovery Day (Haiti) is Important
All about Haiti
Today celebrates everything Haitian. There’s so much more to the country than news about natural disasters.
An homage to legacies
Despite colonial connotations, it is a landmark moment in Haitian history. The makings of the world’s only successful enslaved people’s revolution began with this moment.
A reminder of who came first
Discovery Day pays tribute to millions of indigenous people who fought European colonization. May their courage and stories never be forgotten.
Discovery Day (Haiti) dates