Columbus Day is a public holiday in many parts of the United States that honors the achievements of Christopher Columbus, and for some, celebrates Italian-American heritage.
It was in August, 1492 that Columbus and 90 hopeful crewmen boarded the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria, and boldly set sail to find a quicker route to the prosperous Chinese trade markets.
Imagine for a minute, embarking on a journey in uncharted waters to unknown lands with no GPS system. In fact, the only navigational tools used by Columbus and his crew were rudimentary at best and used to measure the angle between objects above the ocean such as the stars or the sun.
It was not the treasures of China that Columbus discovered on October 12, but rather the shores of the Bahamas – although an accident, the discovery marked the first intertwining of Europe with the Americas, which led to the establishment of European colonies in the New World. It also proved that our globe was much larger than even Columbus had imagined.
The first Columbus Day celebration on record occurred on October 12, 1792, when a ceremony organized by the Columbian Order was held in New York City honoring the 300th anniversary of his landing in the Bahamas. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison helped make the holiday official with this proclamation, “recommending to the people the observance in all their localities of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America…” and describing Columbus as “the pioneer of progress and enlightenment.” In 1971, Columbus Day was designated as the second Monday in October as well as a federal holiday.
It should be noted that controversy surrounding Christopher Columbus, as the ‘first person’ to discover the Americas, has existed since the 18th century. So, while most states celebrate Columbus Day as an official state holiday, others mark it as a ‘Day of Observance’ and two states do not recognize it at all.
San Francisco still claims the oldest continuously existing celebration with the Italian-American community’s annual Columbus Day Parade, established in 1868, while New York boasts the largest. No matter where you live or how you plan to celebrate today, you may want to take a moment to reflect on the courage and adventurous spirit of Columbus and his crew.
A briefing from the History Channel on the story behind the holiday we celebrate today:
A flag raising ceremony in Union County, New Jersey:
And, a Columbus Day Parade that took place last year in a Boston community: