05 October 2012

Columbus Day: Are you in or are you out?

Columbus Day is a controversial annual holiday which falls on the second Monday of October. It became a federal holiday in 1937 although there are records of it being celebrated in the late 18th century. It is intended to celebrate Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas; the first European to set sail to what was later to be the new world.
This celebration has Italian origins and many Italo-Americans borrow the day to celebrate their heritage. It took the lobbying of a first generation Italian living in Denver called Angelo Noce to popularise it, then Colorado governor Jesse F. McDonald a to make it a statutory holiday and the push of the Knights of Columbus to result in President Franklin D. Roosevelt to sign the date as a federal holiday. 
Controversy surrounds the holiday because of a number of factors:
·         Christopher Columbus was not the first European to visit the Americas, it was Viking explorers from Scandinavia who crossed into the Americas almost a thousand years before;
·         Columbus did not really discover mainland USA, he discovered San Salvador, an island in the Caribbean. In his four voyages, the closest he got to the USA was Cuba.
·         The Europeans displaced the native Indians, their beliefs and culture and in some cases massacred them. Some feel that this is not something one should celebrate.
Different states celebrate the day very differently; some states hold a Columbus Day Parade, others mark it as a Day of Recognition and hold services while others do not officially recognise it and normally celebrate another occasion on the day. For example, Hawaii marks Discoverer's Day to honour James Cook the British navigator who discovered the islands.

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