Columbus Day?

Monday, 12 October 2015 is a controversial federal holiday in the United States in honor of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America. For some, Columbus Day represents the demise of indigenous people at the hands of colonization; with estimates of 80% of the North American Native American population was destroyed as the result of the arrival of Europeans. There is evidence that Vikings arrived on the continent over 2,000 years before Columbus and it is believed that Leif Erikson reached the continent some 500 years before Columbus was born. So, technically, Columbus Day can’t really be a holiday to celebrate a “discovery” can it? It was through strong lobbying by the Knights of Columbus that led to the establishment of Columbus Day as a federal holiday in 1937 by President Franklin D Roosevelt, making it one of only ten federal holidays now in existence.

Columbus Day in San Francisco, California is now an Italian American heritage event with a parade. Just across the Bay, Berkeley California renamed Columbus Day to Indigenous People Day in 1992. While Columbus Day is a federal holiday, 17 states do not recognize it as a state holiday. South Dakota started calling the holiday Native American Day in 1989 and Alabama celebrates a combination of Columbus Day and American Indian Heritage Day.

Should Columbus Day continue to be a federal holiday? Things change with new information, a different perspective and shifting demographics because they no longer make sense. Can you recall the last time you saw a working phone booth in the US? Are doctors just about the only people wearing pagers now? There are at least two former federal holidays that have been abolished. The Eighth which celebrated the U.S. victory in the Battle of New Orleans and Victory Day which celebrated the U.S. victory against Japan in the conclusion of World War II. Today, what does Columbus Day celebrate? Maybe that answer will cause an action for the ongoing discussion on if Columbus Day should continue to be one of ten federal holidays or not.

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