“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” We’ve been saying this for at least a hundred years (and celebrating Columbus’ passage for even longer), but for many people, Columbus Day is nothing more than a day off from school. But it didn’t start that way! This federal holiday was celebrated by many Americans before its official designation in 1937, and it was often used as a way to honor the heritage of Italian-Americans. It’s only in more recent years that many Americans have soured on the idea of celebrating Columbus’ conquests, but even with the controversy, there’s still plenty of reason to appreciate the day. So, on the second Monday in October, we celebrate Columbus Day!
Why Columbus Day is Important
A. It reminds us where we came from
Columbus Day is a yearly reminder that, for most of our ancestors, becoming American was a journey. Regardless of where your family came from, Columbus Day is an opportunity to think about what our ancestors, and the ancestors of our friends, had to do to find a comfortable life.
B. It gives us time to reflect
As evidenced by the Indigenous Peoples Day movement (more info in the "resources" section below), Columbus Day doesn't come-and-go without commentary about the hardships that the natives faced as a result of Columbus' conquests. It benefits everyone when we take time to reflect on the hard truths of our past, in hopes of being better people moving forward.
C. It's one of our oldest holidays
While it didn't receive federal designation until the 20th century, Americans celebrated Columbus Day as far back as 1792 — on the 300th anniversary of Columbus' passage.
How to Observe Columbus Day
1. Get better acquainted with Columbus
Sure, you probably had a few lessons through high school that touched on Columbus — but what do you really know about the Niña, Pinta, and the Santa María? Did you know that those likely weren't the names of those ships that were used at the time? If not, you've got a lot of reading to do!
2. Use it as a platform to discuss current events
How Columbus' journey (and the subsequent events) have been perceived two hundred years later? What about today? Are there people in our current world facing similar trials to what the natives faced in the 15th century? What solutions might there be?
3. Throw a 15th century bash
There's good cause to feel a bit strange about hosting a Columbus Day party (it's sure to get political), but everybody loves a good decade party. How about a century party, instead?