Should Columbus Day be a National Holiday?

Christopher ColumbusIn the United States, October 10th  2011 will be celebrated as Columbus Day, a national holiday where many businesses, government offices and schools are closed. The day commemorates the arrival of Christopher Columbus inNorth America on October 12, 1492. The holiday is also celebrated as Día de la Raza in many Latin American countries and as Fiesta Nacional in Spain, the country that supported Columbus in his quest to the “New World.” However, there are many groups that feel that it is improper to support this holiday because of there was already a native population living there.

For most of the history of the Americas and especially since the formation of the United States, there have been celebrations of Columbus’ landing.  Although the holiday didn’t become an official holiday until the 1930s, the arrival of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Mariahas long been heralded in the United States, popularized by the children’s rhyme, “In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue….” For those of European heritage, this was an important moment in history. Without Columbus, the early pilgrims may have not traveled across the ocean, the original colonies of England may have not been settled, and the United States would not have formed as it had (Although, it is probably safe to assume that if Columbus had not arrived in North America, eventually an European explorer would).

Furthermore, Columbus Day has evolved throughout its history into a big celebration of Italian-American culture and heritage (although Columbus sailed for Spain, he was born in Genoa, Italy). Many cities and towns around the nation hold Columbus Day parades that double as Italian-American festivals.  And the holiday has also held special significance for Catholics, such the Knights of Columbus group, since the explorer himself was catholic.

The holiday has come under increasing scrutiny over the past few decades, however, as many feel the holiday portrays a biased view of history and culture. The historical notion that Columbus “discovered” the Americas is flawed, some say, since there were already indigenous people living there. Many feel that the idea that Europeans brought culture and civilization to “savage” American Indians is a racist idea that belittles the society and customs that had already been established. Although the relationship between native peoples and explorers/settlers is very complicated, and it would be simplistic to ascribe one scenario to all of the interactions, there has unquestionably been widespread exploitation of Native Americans by settlers.

Also, some critics feel that Columbus’ arrival in the American continents lead, in many ways, to the violent conquering and frequent slaughter of the American Indian population. There is some evidence that suggests that Columbus was motivated by greed and power, viewing harsh enslavement of the indigenous peoples as a necessary step towards his ends.  In light of documents that question Columbus’ moral character, many groups feel it is not fitting to honor the man in spite of the many positives that resulted from his landing.  Some surprising groups have joined the cause of challenging the holiday. The National Council of Churches has stated that Christians should not celebrate the holiday.

So what is your opinion?  Should Columbus Day continue to be celebrated as a holiday?  Why?  Should it be changed?  If you think it should be altered, how so?

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