The Origins and Influencers of Columbus Day Becoming a National Holiday

Holidays & Special Events

By Mackenzie Roche

Every second Monday in October, the United States celebrates Columbus Day, a holiday named after the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus. This national holiday is observed in honor of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492. However, the story behind how Columbus Day became a holiday is filled with controversy and different perspectives.

The push to recognize Columbus Day as a national holiday originated in the late 19th century, when a large number of Italian immigrants began arriving in the United States. These immigrants sought to celebrate their heritage and contribute to American society. They saw Columbus as an important figure in history who symbolized Italian culture and achievements.

Italian-American organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, played a significant role in advocating for Columbus Day. They lobbied for the holiday, emphasizing Columbus’ achievements and portraying him as a hero and pioneer. Their efforts paid off when President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Columbus Day a national holiday in 1937.

However, over time, the celebration of Columbus Day has sparked controversy and criticism. Indigenous groups and others argue that Columbus’ arrival marked the beginning of oppression, violence, and the exploitation of native peoples. They believe the holiday should not be celebrated and have called for its abolition or transformation into a day that recognizes the contributions and resilience of indigenous cultures.

The Origin of Columbus Day

Columbus Day has its origins in the celebration of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas, which took place on October 12, 1492. The holiday was first observed in the United States in the late 18th century, but it wasn’t until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that Columbus Day became a national holiday.

The idea of establishing a holiday to honor Christopher Columbus was first proposed in the 1860s by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. They wanted to create a holiday that would celebrate the contributions of Italian-Americans to the United States and promote patriotism and national pride. The Knights of Columbus saw Columbus as a symbol of the Italian-American community’s heritage and believed that he played a significant role in the history of America.

Despite initial resistance, Columbus Day was first celebrated as a state holiday in Colorado in 1906. Other states followed suit, and in 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated October 12 as Columbus Day, making it a federal holiday.

Over time, however, the celebration of Columbus Day has become increasingly controversial. Critics argue that Columbus’ arrival to the Americas resulted in the mistreatment and exploitation of indigenous peoples, and they question the appropriateness of celebrating a holiday that is associated with colonialism and oppression.

In recent years, some cities and states have started to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which is meant to honor and celebrate the Indigenous peoples who were already living in the Americas when Columbus arrived. This change reflects a growing recognition of the historical and cultural importance of indigenous communities.

Overall, the origin of Columbus Day can be traced back to the desire to celebrate Italian-American heritage and recognize Christopher Columbus’ role in American history. However, the holiday’s significance and meaning have evolved over time, reflecting changing perspectives and a deeper understanding of the experiences of indigenous peoples.

Christopher Columbus and His Voyages

Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer, is best known for his four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean in the late 15th century. In search of a new route to Asia, Columbus unintentionally discovered the Americas, which had been unknown to Europeans at the time. His voyages, sponsored by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, had a significant impact on world history, leading to the establishment of lasting connections between Europe and the Americas.

Columbus made his first voyage in 1492, setting sail with three ships – the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Niña. After two months at sea, he reached land in the present-day Bahamas, believing he had arrived in the East Indies. Columbus explored various Caribbean islands and soon encountered indigenous peoples, whom he named “Indians.” He returned to Spain in 1493, convinced of his discovery of a new route to Asia.

Encouraged by his initial success, Columbus made three more voyages to the New World. His second voyage, in 1498, took him to the coast of South America, while his third voyage, in 1498, explored the coast of Central America. On his fourth and final voyage, in 1502, Columbus reached the continent of South America once again.

While Columbus’ voyages were significant in terms of exploration, they also had far-reaching consequences. The encounters between Europeans and native peoples led to the colonization and exploitation of the Americas by European powers. Columbus is also widely criticized for his treatment of indigenous peoples, including enslavement and forced labor.

Despite the controversies surrounding Columbus and his legacy, his voyages opened up a new chapter in world history. The discovery of the Americas transformed global trade, sparked the Age of Exploration, and forever changed the course of human history.

Key Points:

  • Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who made four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • His voyages were sponsored by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain.
  • Columbus unintentionally discovered the Americas during his first voyage in 1492.
  • His voyages had profound consequences, leading to the colonization of the Americas by European powers.
  • Columbus is both celebrated for his exploration and criticized for his treatment of indigenous peoples.

The Role of Italian-Americans

Italian-Americans played a crucial role in the establishment of Columbus Day as a holiday in the United States. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, millions of Italian immigrants arrived in America, seeking better opportunities and a brighter future.

Italian-American communities, particularly in cities such as New York, Boston, and Chicago, were tightly knit and developed a strong sense of pride in their heritage. As they settled into their new lives, they brought with them their customs, traditions, and celebrations.

Columbus Day became an important holiday for Italian-Americans to showcase and celebrate their heritage and contributions to American society. The holiday provided an opportunity for Italian-Americans to counteract the discrimination and prejudice they faced during this time.

Italian-American organizations, such as the Italian Sons and Daughters of America and the Order Sons of Italy in America, actively advocated for the recognition of Columbus Day as a national holiday. They organized parades, cultural events, and lobbied politicians to establish Columbus Day as a way to honor Italian-American heritage.

With their strong community ties and determination, Italian-Americans successfully influenced public opinion and gained support for Columbus Day. Their efforts culminated in President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially recognizing Columbus Day as a federal holiday in 1937.

Today, Columbus Day continues to be celebrated, and Italian-Americans are proud to have played a significant role in its establishment. The holiday serves as a reminder of the contributions Italian-Americans have made to American society and their enduring legacy.

The Influence of the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church played a significant role in the establishment of Columbus Day as a holiday. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Catholic Church in the United States, particularly the Knights of Columbus, vigorously promoted the celebration of Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the New World.

The Catholic Church viewed Columbus as a devout Catholic explorer and saw his journey as the gateway to spreading Christianity to the indigenous people of the Americas. The Church saw Columbus as a hero who brought the Catholic faith to new lands and converted many indigenous people to Christianity.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, played a key role in advocating for and promoting Columbus Day as a national holiday. They viewed Columbus as a symbol of Catholicism and American patriotism, and they saw Columbus Day as an opportunity to celebrate both their faith and their American citizenship.

The Catholic Church used its influence and resources to support the establishment of Columbus Day. They organized parades, ceremonies, and public celebrations to commemorate Columbus’s voyage. They also lobbied and campaigned for legislation to recognize Columbus Day as a national holiday.

The Catholic Church’s involvement in the promotion of Columbus Day helped solidify the holiday’s importance and contributed to its eventual recognition as a national holiday in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In conclusion, the influence of the Catholic Church, particularly the Knights of Columbus, was instrumental in making Columbus Day a recognized holiday in the United States. Their efforts to honor Columbus as a Catholic explorer and to celebrate his journey helped shape the narrative and perception of Columbus’s historical significance.

Advocacy by the Knights of Columbus

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization founded in 1882, played a significant role in the advocacy for Columbus Day to become a holiday in the United States. As an organization, the Knights of Columbus sought to promote Catholic values and support Catholic immigrants in America.

It was in the late 19th century that the Knights of Columbus began to advocate for a national holiday to honor Christopher Columbus. Led by their founder, Father Michael J. McGivney, the Knights of Columbus worked to raise awareness about Columbus’s achievements and his significance in American history.

Through lectures, publications, and public events, the Knights of Columbus highlighted Columbus as a symbol of Catholic heritage and American patriotism. They emphasized his role in the discovery of the Americas and his contributions to civilization.

In addition to promoting a positive image of Columbus, the Knights of Columbus actively lobbied government officials, including President Benjamin Harrison and members of Congress, to establish Columbus Day as a national holiday. They argued that Columbus’s journey represented the spirit of exploration and the pioneering spirit that formed the foundation of the United States.

After years of advocacy, the efforts of the Knights of Columbus finally paid off. In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed October 12th as Columbus Day, a federal holiday to honor the achievements of Christopher Columbus.

Today, the Knights of Columbus continue their advocacy for Columbus Day and work to preserve the holiday’s significance. They organize parades, festivities, and educational programs to ensure that the legacy of Christopher Columbus is remembered and celebrated.

National Recognition of Columbus Day

After the initial celebrations in individual states, the idea of recognizing Columbus Day on a national level was proposed. In 1890, Colorado was the first state to officially recognize Columbus Day as a holiday. This was followed by other states, including New York and Massachusetts, who also declared it a public holiday.

The movement gained further momentum when President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation in 1892, encouraging the nation to observe Columbus Day as a way to honor the achievements of Christopher Columbus. This marked the first national recognition of Columbus Day in the United States.

Following this proclamation, more states began officially celebrating Columbus Day, and in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared it a federal holiday. This meant that Columbus Day would be observed across the entire country, ensuring widespread recognition and celebration of the holiday.

To this day, Columbus Day remains a federal holiday, celebrated on the second Monday in October. It is a day to honor the historical significance of Christopher Columbus’s voyage and his role in shaping the history of the Americas.

1890 Colorado
1892 New York, Massachusetts
1937 Federal holiday declared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Controversies Surrounding Columbus Day

While Columbus Day is celebrated as a federal holiday in the United States, it is not without controversy. Many Native American advocacy groups and their allies argue that Columbus Day should not be celebrated due to the negative impact that Christopher Columbus and the subsequent colonization had on indigenous populations.

One of the main criticisms of Columbus is his treatment of the native population of the Caribbean. He enslaved and mistreated the indigenous people he encountered, leading to the loss of many lives and the destruction of cultures. This harsh treatment is seen by many as an example of the violence and brutality associated with colonization.

Additionally, there is growing recognition of the fact that Columbus did not actually “discover” America. Native Americans had been living on the continent for thousands of years before Columbus arrived, and there were already established civilizations and cultures in place.

The celebration of Columbus Day has also been criticized for perpetuating a Eurocentric and whitewashed version of history. By glorifying Columbus’s “discovery” of America, the holiday has been accused of ignoring the complex and violent history of colonization and marginalizing Native American perspectives.

As a result of these controversies, there have been ongoing efforts to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This alternative holiday aims to recognize and celebrate the rich history and contributions of Native American cultures, while also acknowledging the often overlooked injustices and violence they have faced.

While the debate continues, the controversies surrounding Columbus Day serve as a reminder that history is complex and often contentious. It is important to critically examine and question the narratives that have been traditionally taught, in order to achieve a more inclusive and accurate understanding of the past.


History of the Holidays: Columbus Day | History

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Mackenzie Roche

Mackenzie Roche, part of the content operations team at TravelAsker, boasts three years of experience as a travel editor with expertise in hotel content at U.S. News & World Report. A journalism and creative writing graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park, she brings a wealth of literary prowess to her work. Beyond the desk, Mackenzie embraces a balanced life, indulging in yoga, reading, beach outings, and culinary adventures across Los Angeles.

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