Happy Columbus Day from the Jefferson County Post

Today, October 14th, is Columbus Day! Columbus Day was founded on the ideals of European exploration and the achievements of those explorations that would have a profound impact on the world as we know it today. This controversial holiday has changed with different generations and continues to have lasting cultural implications.

Columbus Day is a holiday that commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World on October 12, 1492. The Italian born explorer set sail with the backing of Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. His mission was to chart a western sea route to China, India, and the fabled Gold and Spice Islands of Asia.

Instead of reaching his intended goal, Columbus would land in the Bahamas, becoming one of the first Europeans to land there since the Vikings. Contrary to popular belief that they did not know that the world was round, most educated people in Columbus’ day understood that the Earth was round, yet they did not know of the existence of the Pacific Ocean.

Columbus’ initial goal was exploration for the Spanish. Later that month, he would sight Cuba, mistakenly thinking that it was the mainland of China, and led an expedition later to Hispaniola. He would return to Spain with his men in March of 1493 with gold, spices, and what he believed were “Indian” slaves. Columbus would make several more trips across the Atlantic and would eventually realize his mistake: he had not actually reached India, but, rather, some new continent that was previously unknown to the Europeans.

So, how did all of this mistaken traveling turn into an actual holiday? Columbus Day was first celebrated in 1792 in New York to commemorate the 300th year celebration of Columbus’ first expedition. Many Italian and Catholic groups took this as a celebration of their heritage in a time where they, like so many other immigrants arriving to America, were socially isolated and looked down upon. In 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Columbus Day an official United States holiday, making the permanent date the second Monday in October.

In recent decades, however, there has been a great deal of opposition and backlash to the celebration of Columbus Day. Many see the day as a glorification of the deadly history of America’s early years, especially in the treatment of slaves and the millions of natives killed during and after the colonization process. Some have even gone so far as to rename Columbus Day.

Others try to put a positive cultural spin on the holiday and, instead, use the day as a teaching opportunity. This more creative turn of the holiday has seemed to satisfy some of the outcry. Regardless of each individual’s opinions of the holiday, Columbus Day has been and will continue to be seen as an important milestone in America’s history. While Columbus’ discovery of America might be contested, the holiday celebrates a defining moment in the history of the West. Happy Columbus Day from all of us at the Jefferson County Post.

Source: Elizabeth Lane, Jefferson County Post Staff Writer