Columbus Day?

ImageI’m all for Columbus. Apparently, we wouldn’t be here without him, and this country that we call home today would not be our motherland had he not discovered it. 

My mom gets off work Monday, because she works for the federal government. The rest of us still have school, which is a disappointment. But in thinking last week, I had to stop and pause. 

Why is Columbus Day a holiday? As I recall from American history classes, approximately 95% of the natives were progressively wiped out, because we landed on the shores and decided that the land, as white people, belonged to US and no one else. Germs did most of the trick, and as for the leftovers? Guns and steel were pretty efficient.

Finders keepers, right? Wrong. 

Over 400 years after this country was founded, no one would argue that we had a right to exterminate the native peoples that we found here. I’m not a romantic; some tribes were absolutely vicious to each other. The times didn’t see anything wrong with this course of action either. 

But Columbus Day only became a holiday in 1937, less than 100 years ago. By that time, de facto segregation was more or less allowed, but explicit segregation was outlawed. Today, we’ve become the most liberal place on Earth, and anything goes.

This year, I’ll be celebrating the second days of Sukkot on Columbus Day, so the holiday is pretty irrelevant.

For the rest of you, my question is this: why do we still celebrate this holiday? And what should it mean to us?

3 thoughts on “Columbus Day?

  1. Well, I’m not being a romantic either, but let’s be perfectly honest; for better or worse, this holiday marks nothing more than a historical achievement: the discovery of a new world. And whether your relatives were Native American or European, it goes both ways. Because, again, for better or worse, the Native Americans also discovered a new world as well. I’m not urging people to rejoice in the fact that it led to such calous acts by would-be comers, but the fact that someone was brave and crazy enough to reach out beyond the borders of the possible and venture into the unknown deserves a mark in history.

    As far as why this is a holiday, well, we have a lot of holidays that are spawned from a European heritage that make little to no sense. The most profound being Christmas. If the country were to be patently “liberal” or “politically correct” with its holidays, we would barely celebrate anything. We wouldn’t have a Martin Luther King Jr. Day and we wouldn’t have Christmas. Because some cultures might have a different calendar, we might not even have something as subtle as New Years. Certainly, we wouldn’t have Thanksgiving, a holiday I’m sure some would argue is only a mark of the true betrayal of Europeans to Native Americans. We even have holidays that only exist to mark war, famine, and the aftermath (such as Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day). And because you may not have a job, even Labor Day could be construed as vocally disdaining those unfortunate enough to be out of work.

    If anything, I feel that Columbus Day is constant reminder to all of us to strive to want more than just what there is. It celebrates having the courage to seek out a new world, to strike out against the popular opinion, and to do so without any fear holding you back. All bold choices have a controversial story to them, and Christopher Columbus is certainly no exception, but this holiday doesn’t represent any acceptance for the brutal and genocidal aftermath of his discovery; it represents the fact that he had the courage to strike out and, for better or worse, forever change the world as we know it.

    • abigailjaffe says:

      Thanks for your great points. However, since there were many explorers who “discovered” America, I think that in lieu of recognizing only Columbus, perhaps we should have an “America Discovery” day if our purpose is to recognize this feat.

      Coincidentally, I happen to be pretty conservative, so this was post was uncharacteristic of me. I appreciate your favorable interpretations of the holiday and enabling me to see it in a more positive light, and hope you had a good one.


      • Mayhaps. Personally, I am unsure why it wasn’t renamed to “Discovery Day” or “Explorer Day” or something when we landed on the moon. Seems like that would be a holiday-worthy event (or at least worthy enough to change the name of a holiday)…at least more so than “Black Friday” when most people literally take a day off to do shopping.

        And thanks for the well wishes. In an equally odd twist (considering my patronage for the holiday), I didn’t have a great day, nor did I get it off from work.

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