Learning · Musing

Ditching Columbus Day

Yesterday random talk came up about today being the celebration of Columbus Day and both my husband and I said it was stupid. Unexpectedly, we heard the question, “why?”

With the diminishing numbers of schools and businesses treating October 12 as a national holiday, I had incorrectly assumed that the reasons for abandoning it were much more well-known. Here are some of my brief thoughts on why this holiday should either quietly disappear or be changed:

  • Is it possible to “discover” a land that has always existed? Yes, of course it is. “Discover” can simply mean happening upon something unexpected. However, to make this “discovery” and then subsequently claim everything about it as your new realm, that is the problem. While Columbus didn’t stake claim individually, he did so in the name of King Fernando and Queen Isabela of Spain, disregarding the already well-established nations and histories.
  • The subsequent “discovery” led to wars and diseases that wiped out enough indigenous citizens to label it genocide. Additionally, many indigenous citizens were then enslaved. Even if we are celebrating the idea of Columbus, we are apparently celebrating the idea of destroying nations.
  • If you are done rolling your eyes at me, I have other points that may reach your logical side vs emotional one. Columbus did not land anywhere on what is currently US soil. That being the case, why does his name get the glory? Why not Amerigo Vespucci, from whom we have allegedly adopted his name for all of the Americas? Why not a Viking that came across before either of them?
  • Because Columbus did land in the Caribbean nations and then extended to the Mexico/Central America region, it is natural that those nations might choose to recognize the encounter. In fact, some do: they celebrate Día de la Raza – the Day of the Race. Instead of commemorating Colón (Columbus) himself, they embrace their history and recognize themselves as a mixed culture of indigenous and Spanish blood (among others, of course) and enjoy all that this has given them in the future without forgetting the cost.

I’d vote for quietly letting this holiday fade away, but over the years, others have simply suggested shifting the purpose of the day and instead of calling it Columbus Day, call it Explorer’s Day; celebrate exploration and discovery in general, which our culture values.

What would you vote for… maintaining status quo, abandoning the “holiday”, or transforming it?

Plus, why, if October 12 (which falls nicely on a Friday this year) is the actual holiday, is today the government-recognized day? Does a government holiday always have to be a Monday?


The song: I took a course in undergrad called “Latin American Protest Music”. I think it’s probably the best class I have ever taken. In it, we spent some time understanding the broader term of “America”… and learned to distinguish between “America” and “América”. Those from Ecuador, Mexico, the U.S, and Canada – we are all “Americans”, no? Rubén Blades contributed to this in a multi-faceted song, “Buscando América”… “Te estoy buscando América / temo no encontrarla / tus huellas se han perdido / entre la oscuridad” I’m looking for you, América / I fear I won’t be able to find you / your tracks have been lost / in the darkness.

3 thoughts on “Ditching Columbus Day

  1. Hate Columbus Day- have since I really delved into the truth about the “discovery” of America back in 11th grade (by the way, why do teachers lie to children about all of this until high school?). Anyway, beyond the time eight years ago when I hosted an anti-Columbus Day party, I rarely give the day a second thought. I’d be happy to let it slowly fade away. Transforming it would be a fine compromise. Leaving it as it is is actually offensive.


  2. I have raised my children to know that this is a day of memorial and mourning of the Native American Genocide. I refuse to “celebrate” a genocide and the destruction of peoples and languages and cultures. I agree with Jennifer; it is offensive as it stands.


  3. Perhaps the question of “why” was to hear your take specifically on it. You did not hear me say “no way! It’s my favorite holiday!” I later said that there are too many holidays and that it should be like tennis shoes – if you add a new pair to your closet, you must throw your least favorite out. We added MLK some time ago – which holiday do you think should be ditched? I think this might be a good FB post…..later!


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