Columbus Day

Columbus Day is a national holiday in many countries of the Americas and elsewhere which officially celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492 (Julian Calendar; it would have been October 21, 1492, on the Gregorian Proleptic Calendar, which extends the Gregorian Calendar to dates prior to its adoption in 1582). Christopher Columbus first landed in what is called today "Luperon" a small town on the north coast of the Dominican Republic side of Hispañola Island. The name of Hipañola was given to the island to honor the queen Isabel of Spain. Christopher Columbus was an Italian-Genoa explorer on behalf of Spain, who set sail from "Puerto de Palos, Spain to across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a faster route to the Far East only to land at the New World. His first voyage to the New World on the Spanish ships Santa María, Niña, and La Pinta took approximately three months. Columbus and his crew's arrival to the New World initiated the Columbian Exchange which introduced the transfer of plants, animals, culture, human populations, and technology between the New World and the Old World.

Columbus Day
Desembarco de Colón de Dióscoro Puebla.jpg
First Landing of Columbus on the Shores of the New World; painting by Dióscoro Puebla (1862)
Observed byVarious countries in the Americas, Italy, Spain, various Little Italys around the world.
DateOctober 12 (actual/traditional); second Monday in October (observed in the United States)
2019 dateOctober 14  (2019-10-14)
2020 dateOctober 12  (2020-10-12)
2021 dateOctober 11  (2021-10-11)
2022 dateOctober 10  (2022-10-10)

The landing is celebrated as Columbus Day in the United States, but the name varies on the international spectrum. The Dominican Republic, the epicenter of this great historical event, and where Christopher Columbus first set foot, celebrate this day as "The Discovery Of the Americas". In some Latin American countries, October 12 is known as Día de la Raza or (Day of the Race). This is the case for Mexico, which inspired Jose Vasconcelos's book celebrating the Day of the Iberoamerican Race. Some countries such as Spain refer the holiday as Día de la Hispanidad and Fiesta Nacional de España where it is also the religious festivity of la Virgen del Pilar. Since 2009, Peru has celebrated Día de los pueblos originarios y el diálogo intercultural (Indigenous Peoples and Intercultural Dialogue Day).[1] Belize and Uruguay celebrate it as Día de las Américas (Day of the Americas). Giornata Nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo or Festa Nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo is the formal name of Italy's celebration as well as in Little Italys around the world.[2][3]

United States observanceEdit


Stylized graphic from the United States Department of Defense

Celebration of Christopher Columbus' voyage in the early United States is recorded from as early as 1792. In that year, the Tammany Society in New York City[4] (for whom it became an annual tradition)[5][6] and the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston celebrated the 300th anniversary of Columbus' landing in the New World.[7][8]

For the 400th anniversary in 1892, following a lynching in New Orleans where a mob had murdered 11 Italian immigrants, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day as a one-time national celebration.[9][10] The proclamation was part of a wider effort after the lynching incident to placate Italian Americans and ease diplomatic tensions with Italy.[9] During the anniversary in 1892, teachers, preachers, poets and politicians used rituals to teach ideals of patriotism. These rituals took themes such as citizenship boundaries, the importance of loyalty to the nation, and the celebration of social progress, included among them was the Pledge of Allegiance by Francis Bellamy.[11][12][13][14]

Many Italian-Americans observe Columbus Day as a celebration of their heritage, and the first such celebration had already been held in New York City on October 12, 1866.[15] The day was first enshrined as a legal holiday in the United States through the lobbying of Angelo Noce, a first generation Italian, in Denver.[16] The first statewide holiday was proclaimed by Colorado governor Jesse F. McDonald in 1905, and it was made a statutory holiday in 1907.[17][18]

In 1934, as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus and New York City Italian leader Generoso Pope, Congress passed a statute stating: "The President is requested to issue each year a proclamation (1) designating October 12 as Columbus Day; (2) calling on United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Columbus Day; and (3) inviting the people of the United States to observe Columbus Day, in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies that express the public sentiment befitting the anniversary of the discovery of America."[17][19][20] President Franklin Delano Roosevelt responded by making such a proclamation. This proclamation did not lead to the modern federal holiday. It was similar to language regarding Thomas Jefferson's Birthday and Gold Star Mothers Day.

In 1966, Mariano A. Lucca, from Buffalo, NY, founded the National Columbus Day Committee, which lobbied to make Columbus Day a federal holiday.[21] These efforts were successful and Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1968.[22][23]

Since 1971 (Oct. 11), the holiday has been attributed to the second Monday in October,[24] coincidentally exactly the same day as Thanksgiving in neighboring Canada since 1957. It is generally observed nowadays by banks, the bond market, the U.S. Postal Service, other federal agencies, most state government offices, many businesses, and most school districts. Some businesses and some stock exchanges remain open, and some states and municipalities abstain from observing the holiday.[25] The traditional date of the holiday also adjoins the anniversary of the United States Navy (founded October 13, 1775), and thus both occasions are customarily observed by the Navy and the Marine Corps with either a 72- or 96-hour liberty period.[26]

On October 10, 1992, Pope John Paul II visited the Dominican Republic to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Discovery Of the Americas and the arrival of Christianity in the[27] "New World" His visit ended with a mass in the nation's cathedral. The first cathedral in the Western Hemisphere

Local observance of Columbus DayEdit

Columbus Day in Salem, Massachusetts in 1892

Actual observance varies in different parts of the United States, ranging from large-scale parades and events to complete non-observance. Most states do not celebrate Columbus Day as an official state holiday.[28] Some mark it as a "Day of Observance" or "Recognition.” Most states that celebrate Columbus Day will close state services, while others operate as normal.[29]

San Francisco claims the nation's oldest continuously existing celebration with the Italian-American community's annual Columbus Day Parade, which was established by Nicola Larco in 1868,[30] while New York City boasts the largest, with over 35,000 marchers and one million viewers around 2010.[31][32][33]

As in the mainland United States, Columbus Day is a legal holiday in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. In the United States Virgin Islands, the day is celebrated as both Columbus Day and "Puerto Rico Friendship Day."[34]

Virginia also celebrates two legal holidays on the day, Columbus Day and Yorktown Victory Day, which honors the final victory at the Siege of Yorktown in the Revolutionary War.[35]


The celebration of Columbus Day in the United States began to decline at the end of the 20th century, although many Italian-Americans and others continue to champion it.[36][37] The states of Florida,[38] Hawaii,[39][40] Alaska,[41][42] Vermont,[43] South Dakota,[44] New Mexico,[45] Maine,[46] Wisconsin,[47] and parts of California including, for example, Los Angeles County[48] do not recognize it and have each replaced it with celebrations of Indigenous People's Day (in Hawaii, "Discoverers' Day", in South Dakota, "Native American Day"[37]). A lack of recognition or a reduced level of observance for Columbus Day is not always due to concerns about honoring Native Americans. For example, a community of predominantly Scandinavian descent may observe Leif Erikson Day instead.[49] In the states of Oregon and Washington, Columbus Day is not an official holiday.[50][51]

Iowa and Nevada do not celebrate Columbus Day as an official holiday, but the states' respective governors are "authorized and requested" by statute to proclaim the day each year.[52] Several states have removed the day as a paid holiday for state government workers, while maintaining it either as a day of recognition, or as a legal holiday for other purposes, including California and Texas.[53][54][55][56][57]

The practice of U.S. cities eschewing Columbus Day to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day began in 1992 with Berkeley, California. The list of cities which have followed suit as of 2018 includes Austin, Boise, Cincinnati, Denver, Los Angeles, Mankato, Minnesota, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Seattle, St. Paul, Minnesota, Phoenix, Tacoma, and "dozens of others."[36][58][59][60][54][61][62][63][64][65][66] Columbus, Ohio has chosen to honor veterans instead of Christopher Columbus, and removed Columbus Day as a city holiday. Various tribal governments in Oklahoma designate the day as Native American Day, or name it after their own tribe.[67]

Latin American observanceEdit

Día de la RazaEdit

The date Columbus arrived in the Americas is celebrated in some countries of Latin America. The most common name for the celebration in Spanish (including some Latin American communities[68] in the United States) is the Día de la Raza ("day of the race" or the "day of the [Hispanic] people"), commemorating the first encounters of Europeans and the Native Americans. The day was first celebrated in Argentina in 1917, in Venezuela and Colombia in 1921, in Chile in 1922 and in Mexico it was first celebrated in 1928. The day was also celebrated under this title in Spain until 1957, when it was changed to the Día de la Hispanidad ("Hispanicity Day"), and in Venezuela it was celebrated under this title until 2002, when it was changed to the Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance). Originally conceived of as a celebration of Hispanic influence in the Americas, as evidenced by the complementary celebrations in Spain and Latin America, Día de la Raza has come to be seen by nationalist activists throughout Latin America as a counter to Columbus Day; a celebration of the native races and cultures and their resistance to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.[citation needed]

In the United States, Día de la Raza has served as a time of mobilization for pan-ethnic Latino activists, particularly since the 1960s. Since then, La Raza has served as a periodic rallying cry for Hispanic activists. The first Hispanic March on Washington occurred on Columbus Day in 1996. The name is used by the largest Hispanic social justice organization in the nation, the National Council of La Raza.[11]


Plaza de Mayo in Argentina "Día de la Raza", with an imagen of Cristobal Colon, 1929.
Argentine government poster from 1947 including the concept of la Raza.

The Day of the Race was established in Argentina in 1916 by a decree of President Hipólito Yrigoyen. The name was changed to "Day of Respect of Cultural Diversity" by a presidential decree in 2010 issued by President Cristina Kirchner. The statue of Columbus was removed from its original position near the Casa Rosada and replaced by one of Juana Azurduy, a patriot and leader in the struggle for independence who had indigenous ancestors.


Colombia, whose name originated from Columbus himself, celebrates El día de la Raza y de la Hispanidad (meaning "Day of the Race and Hispanicity") and is taken as an opportunity to celebrate the encounter of "the two worlds" and to reflect on the richness that the racial diversity has brought to the culture.


In Peru, it was known as Día del descubrimiento de América ("Day of the discovery of America"). Since 2009, it has been celebrated as Día de los pueblos originarios y el diálogo intercultural (Indigenous Peoples and Intercultural Dialogue Day).[69]


Between 1921 and 2002, Venezuela celebrated Día de la Raza along with many other Latin American nations. The original holiday was officially established in 1921 under President Juan Vicente Gómez. In 2002, under President Hugo Chávez, the holiday was changed to Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance) to commemorate the Indigenous peoples' resistance to European settlement.[70]

On October 12, 2004, a crowd of pro-government activists toppled a statue of Christopher Columbus by Rafael de la Cova in Caracas. The activists also sprayed allusive graffiti over its pedestal. The Walk where the statue had stood was renamed in 2008 "Indigenous Resistance Walk". Later a statue of an indigenous leader, Guaicaipuro, was erected on the plinth.[70]

Costa RicaEdit

On September 21, 1994, Costa Rica changed the official holiday from Día de la Raza to Día del Encuentro de las Culturas (Day of the Encounter of Cultures) to recognize the mix of European, Native American (autochthonous populations), African and Asian cultures that constitute modern Costa Rican (and Latin American) culture and ethnicity. In accordance to the Costa Rican labor law, the holiday is observed on October 12. However, should this date coincide with a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, the employer shall agree that said holiday be postponed to the following Monday.[71]

Caribbean observanceEdit

Only a handful of Caribbean countries observe holidays related to Columbus Day. In Belize, October 12 is celebrated as Day of the Americas or Pan American Day.[72][73][74] In the Bahamas, it was formerly known as Discovery Day, until 2001 when it was replaced by National Heroes Day. In 1937, Cuban President Federico Laredo Brú (1936–1940) spoke to the nation and countries of America in Cuba on October 12 commemorating Christopher Columbus's voyage to the New World. Federico Laredo Brú spoke about Columbus' impact on the land and the future of its settlement. He ended his speech with venerating Christopher Columbus' efforts to colonize and establish settlements along the new front and the pride of ones nation. He added "Por mi raza hablo mi espiritu," which translates to "For my race my spirit called," in order to support the political infrastructure at the time.[75]

Columbus' Legacy in the CaribbeanEdit

The Columbus Lighthouse in Santo Domingo Este, Dominican Republic

December 1937, Cuban president Federico Laredo Brú and Dominican Republic president Rafael Trujillo ordered a crew of aviators to travel through Latin America collecting funds from large capital cities for a monumental light house in the Dominican Republic. The exploration Escuadrilla Binacional Pro Faro de Colón was inspired by Columbus's journey across the North Atlantic Ocean to America. The expedition consisted of three Stinson Reliant SR-9 borrowed from the Cuban Air Force - named Santa María, Niña and La Pinta after the vessels commanded by Columbus - and a Curtiss Wright CW-19R from the Dominican military aviation named Colon after Columbus. On December 15, after visiting a majority of South America, their flight to the Peruvian capital Lima was hampered by an unexpected sandstorm. Two planes (Colon and La Pinta) were forced to land in Pisco and Niña disappeared in the storm. The Santa Maria was the only plane to reach Lima as planned, landing at Las Palmas on the day of the storm. After extensive searches, Nina radioed their whereabouts after their radio was damaged in the storm. The aircraft restrategized in Las Palmas and on December 29 their expedition took off from El Techo airport in Bogotá en route to El Guabito airport in California. Later that day, the crew flew into an unexpected storm over the Valley of Cauca. With minimal visibility and poor navigation, Niña, La Pinta and Santa Maria crashed into high mountains, while Colon, unaware of the other aircraft, flew over the storm and safely made it to Panama City. The plane is preserved today as remembrance of the bravery of the crew and Christopher Columbus's journey.[76]

In 1992, in remembrance of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America, the Columbus Lighthouse, in Santo Domingo Este was inaugurated. The monument is both a mausoleum and a museum showcasing objects including a boat from Cuba and Colombian jewelry. Constructed of concrete, the monument is 680 feet (210 m) long.[77] Its architecture is cross-shaped and represents the Christianization of the Americas. According to the Dominican authorities, remains of Christopher Columbus are sheltered at the lighthouse. However, Spanish authorities have proved through DNA tests that the remains in the Cathedral of Seville are the real remains of Columbus. The Dominican authorities haven't allowed the same DNA tests to be done to the remains in the lighthouse, so it is impossible to know if the remains of Columbus are divided or if the remains in the lighthouse belonged to another person.[78][79]

European observanceEdit


Monument to Christopher Columbus in Genoa, Italy

Since the 18th century, many Italian communities in the Americas have observed the Discovery of the New World as a celebration of their heritage; Christopher Columbus (whose original, Italian name is "Cristoforo Colombo") was an Italian explorer, citizen of the Republic of Genoa.[80]

In Italy, Columbus Day has been officially celebrated since 2004.[3] It is officially named Giornata nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo.

The "Lega Navale Italiana" has created a Regata di Colombo as a celebration of the Columbus achievement.[81] Italians have celebrated their "Cristoforo Colombo" naming after him many civilian and military ships, like the ocean liner SS Cristoforo Colombo.


Eternal flame.

Since 1987, Spain has celebrated the anniversary of Columbus's arrival in the Americas as its Fiesta Nacional or "National Day". Previously Spain had celebrated the day as Día de la Hispanidad, emphasizing Spain's ties with Hispanidad, the international Hispanic community.[82] In 1981 a royal decree established the Día de la Hispanidad as a national holiday.[82] However, in 1987 the name was changed to Fiesta Nacional, and October 12 became one of two national celebrations, along with Constitution Day on December 6.[83] Spain's "national day" had moved around several times during the various regime changes of the 20th century; establishing it on the day of the international Columbus celebration was part of a compromise between conservatives, who wanted to emphasize the status of the monarchy and Spain's history, and Republicans, who wanted to commemorate Spain's burgeoning democracy with an official holiday.[83] Since 2000, October 12 has also been Spain's Day of the Armed Forces, celebrated each year with a military parade in Madrid.[83] Other than this, however, the holiday is not widely or enthusiastically celebrated in Spain. There are no large-scale patriotic parades, marches or other events, but shops and businesses are closed as with other bank holidays.[84] The observation is generally overshadowed by the feast day of Our Lady of the Pillar (Fiestas del Pilar).[83] This holiday was declared a religious feast day throughout the Spanish Empire in 1730. In recent years, celebration of the holiday has faced some opposition from various organizations.

Opposition to Columbus celebrationsEdit

Engraving by Theodor de Bry, depicting the controversial account by Bartolomé de las Casas regarding the Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias, 1552. De Bry's works are characteristic of the anti-Spanish propaganda that originated as a result of the Eighty Years' War, known as the Black Legend.

Opposition to Columbus Day dates back to at least the 19th century, when anti-immigrant nativists sought to eliminate its celebration because of its association with immigrants from the Catholic countries of Ireland and Italy, and the American Catholic fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus.[85] Some anti-Catholics, notably including the Ku Klux Klan and the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, opposed celebrations of Columbus or monuments about him because they thought that it increased Catholic influence in the United States, which was largely a Protestant country.[85]

By far, the more common opposition today, decrying both Columbus' and other Europeans' actions against the indigenous populations of the Americas, did not gain much traction until the latter half of the 20th century. This opposition was initially led by Native Americans and was expanded upon by left-wing political parties.[86][87][88] Two surveys, conducted in 2013 and 2015 by Rasmussen Reports, found 26% to 38% of American adults are not in favor of celebrating Columbus Day.[89][90]

There are many interrelated strands of criticism. One refers primarily to the treatment of the indigenous populations during the European colonization of the Americas, which followed Columbus's discovery. Some groups, such as the American Indian Movement, have argued that the ongoing actions and injustices against Native Americans are masked by Columbus myths and celebrations.[91] American anthropologist Jack Weatherford says that on Columbus Day, Americans celebrate the greatest waves of genocide of the American Indians known in history.[92]

Statueless plinth in Caracas in 2006. A statue of Christopher Columbus, which formerly occupied the plinth, was knocked down by activists in 2004.[93]

A second strain of criticism of Columbus Day focuses on the character of Columbus himself. In time for the 2004 observation of the day, the final volume of a compendium of Columbus-era documents was published by the University of California, Los Angeles' Medieval and Renaissance Center. It stated that Columbus, while a brilliant mariner, exploited and enslaved the indigenous population.[94]

Spelman College historian Howard Zinn described some of the details in his book, A People's History of the United States, of how Columbus personally ordered the enslavement and mutilation of the native Arawak people in a bid to repay his investors.[95]

Journalist and media critic Norman Solomon reflects, in Columbus Day: A Clash of Myth and History, that many people choose to hold on to the myths instead of reality in the events surrounding Columbus. He disputes the idea that the Spaniards' arrival was beneficial towards the Indians by quoting History of the Indies by the Catholic priest Bartolomé de las Casas, who observed the region where Columbus was governor. Las Casas writes that the Spaniards were driven by "insatiable greed" as they killed and tortured native populations with "the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty" and laments that "my eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write."[96]

In the summer of 1990, 350 representatives from American Indian groups from all over the hemisphere, met in Quito, Ecuador, at the first Intercontinental Gathering of Indigenous People in the Americas, to mobilize against the 500th anniversary (quin-centennial) celebration of Columbus Day planned for 1992. The following summer, in Davis, California, more than a hundred Native Americans gathered for a follow-up meeting to the Quito conference. They declared October 12, 1992 to be "International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People."[97]

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