Ten little-known facts about Columbus Day and its namesake

By on October 8th, 2012

For some, Columbus Day is little more than a three-day weekend on the edge of a calendar page.

The federal holiday that celebrates explorer Christopher Columbus has a rich, colorful and controversial history. In honor of the man who sailed the ocean blue in 1492, here are 10 interesting facts about Columbus Day:

  1. In early colonial America, Christopher Columbus was a symbol of American nationalism. His name was transformed into Columbia and used as a way to differentiate the new world from the old.  The District of Columbia, which houses the nation’s capital, is named after the famous explorer.
  2. Italian-Americans immigrated to America in large numbers in the late 19th century and faced prejudice for their darker skin and Catholic faith. As a result, they adopted Columbus as a shield against the racial, ethnic and religious discrimination they faced in America. This caused many nativists to reject Columbus, and Columbus had a negative reputation until the centennial celebrations in 1892.
  3. In 1905, Colorado was the first state to recognize Columbus Day as an official holiday. The Governor’s proclamation declared the holiday: “a day upon which maybe gratefully recognized the patriotic Americanism of the Colorado Italians whose generosity prompts them to present to the state an emblem of appreciation of the services to mankind of one of their countrymen, and a material evidence of the good citizenship of those Americans who belong to the same race as he did.”
  4. Congress declared Columbus Day a federal holiday in 1937 and a legal public holiday in 1968.
  5. Hawaii, Alaska and South Dakota do not recognize Columbus Day as a holiday. Columbus Day is not celebrated in 22 states.
  6. In Florida, banks, federal offices and post offices have the day off.
  7. By the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s exploration, the tide had turned against the explorer. Today, Columbus is regarded as the instigator in the series of events that led to genocide, dispossession and disease for Native Americans and African slavery in America.
  8. Columbus Day has several other names across the western world: “Discovery Day” in the Bahamas, “Día de las Americas” in Uruguay, “Día de la Hispanidad” in Europe and “Día de la Raza” in Latin American countries.
  9. Several American cities have replaced Columbus Day with a day of remembrance, including Indigenous Peoples Day in Berkeley, Calif., South Dakota’s Native American Day and Hawaii’s Discoverer’s Day.
  10. Columbus’s burial location is unknown. He was buried and re-buried around the world several times, including brief stints in Spain and Haiti.

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