Mike Trent, History Department Chair
Columbus Day is a National holiday that officially celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492. Columbus was an Italian explorer who set sail across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a faster route to the Far East. His fleet consisted of the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria and the voyage lasted approximately three months. Columbus’s expedition initiated the Columbian Exchange, which introduced the transfer of plants, animals, culture, human populations, and technology between the new world and old.
In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison called upon the people the United States to celebrate Columbus’s landing in the New World on the 400th anniversary of the event. Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed October 12, 1937 to be a Federal holiday. Since 1971, Columbus Day has been observed on the second Monday in October. The Columbus Day holiday is generally observed by banks, U.S. Postal Service, federal agencies and most state governments.
The Columbus Day celebration in the U.S. has declined since the end of the 20th Century. States such as Florida, Hawaii, Alaska, Vermont, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Maine do not recognize the day. These states have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, recognizing the Native Americans and commemorating their history and culture.
One of the most common arguments against celebrating Columbus Day is that Columbus did not discover America! Norse explorer Leif Erikson was the first known European to have set foot on continental North America. Many others credit Amerigo Vespucci for discovering the new continent. Christopher Columbus may not have actually discovered America, but the impact of his explorations remains quite significant. His journeys kicked off centuries of exploration and exploitation on the American continent.
Check out Netflix and the History Channel to find more information and entertaining stories about Christopher Columbus and his explorations.