Occasions 365

Columbus Day

Everything you need to know about the Columbus Day holiday

Columbus Day is a holiday that commemorates famous explorer Christopher Columbus' arrival in North America. While the Columbus Day holiday is often cited as having been instituted in 1971, this is actually inaccurate. It was first officially celebrated across the United States in 1937, on October 12 -- the day that Columbus' ship first docked in the Bahamas. However, the history of Columbus Day actually extends back much further; the first commemorative events of Columbus' journey to North America were held in 1792 in what is now New York City.

Columbus Day Activities

In its early days, a typical Columbus Day celebration was a largely religious event, during which people of faith were invited to take part in commemorative masses and church ceremonies. However, in recent years, Columbus Day has become much more secular in nature. A Columbus Day regatta of boat races is a common way in which the holiday is celebrated in many parts of the United States. Depending on local weather conditions, people may also hold picnics and have fireworks celebrations akin to those seen on the 4th of July. In addition, most schools close down for Columbus Day, and government offices and banks also tend to be shut. However, most businesses remain open -- Columbus Day is not considered a major holiday on the level of Thanksgiving or Christmas, but instead is largely a statutory observance that is, for most people, a casual day off.

Columbus Day is not without its controversies. The arrival of Christopher Columbus marked the beginning of centuries of European exploration and colonization of the Americas, and these activities led to a great deal of violence. Millions of natives were killed as they defended their ancestral homelands against what were largely viewed as European invaders. On that note, it is worth mentioning that many alternative celebrations have sprung up in recent years. The state of South Dakota holds Native Americans Day instead, and some areas of California hold a commemoration that is known as Indigenous Peoples' Day. Whether Columbus Day is held as a celebration of the birth of the New World or as a means of raising awareness of the effects of European colonization on indigenous peoples, it is one of the most important historic holidays in the United States.

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