The History Behind Columbus Day: Why Columbus Day is celebrated on October 12 ?
Columbus Day is a U.S. federal holiday that commemorates Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas and is celebrated every year on October 12. But why is this holiday celebrated on this particular date? Let’s take a look at the history behind Columbus Day to understand the significance of October 12.
Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain on August 3, 1492 with three ships – the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. After two months at sea, land was finally spotted on October 12, 1492. This land was an island in the present-day Bahamas, which Columbus named San Salvador.
Columbus believed he had reached the East Indies and mistakenly called the indigenous people he encountered “Indians.” While Columbus was wrong about his geography, his voyage marked the first time Europeans reached the Americas, opening the door to European colonization of this “New World.”
Columbus went on three more voyages to the Caribbean and South America between 1493-1504, never realizing he had encountered a new continent. He died in 1506 still believing he had reached Asia by sailing west.
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Columbus may not have been the first explorer to reach the Americas – evidence suggests the Vikings may have arrived centuries earlier. But Columbus’ 1492 voyage was the one that started ongoing European contact and colonization. This began the “Columbian Exchange” of goods, people, plants, animals, technology, and ideas between the Americas, Europe, and Africa.
The first Columbus Day celebration in the United States took place in 1792 on the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ landing. It was organized by the Society of St. Tammany, a group of New York City immigrants. Early celebrations focused on Italian American pride and heritage.
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In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday, largely as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, an influential Catholic fraternal organization. The holiday was officially designated as the second Monday in October.
Over the decades, Columbus Day has become quite controversial, as Columbus’ legacy of slavery and brutality towards native populations has received heightened scrutiny. A growing number of locations now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.
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However, Columbus Day remains a federal holiday in the U.S. and is still observed in many parts of the country on the date of Columbus’ historic landing – October 12. The history of why we celebrate on this particular date goes back over 500 years!
While debates continue on whether this holiday should be celebrated at all, October 12 remains significant as the date that marks the changing relationship between Europe and the Americas centuries ago. Understanding the origins of Columbus Day helps provide insight into this complex history.