Columbus Day is a US holiday held on the second Monday in October, and it commemorates Christopher Columbus’ landing in the New World on October 12, 1492. Columbus was an Italian born explorer who had been backed by the Spanish monarchs to chart a western sea route to China. At the time people believed that only the Atlantic Ocean was between Europe and the East Indies. However, when Columbus set sail, he discovered a continent previously unknown to Europeans- the Americas. The island that he first set foot on was the Bahamas and then he went on explore surrounding areas including Cuba. Columbus became the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings in the 10th century.
Columbus Day was celebrated unofficially in the 18th century to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the historic landing of Columbus in the Americas. It was not until 1937 that it was recognized as a national holiday by Franklin D. Roosevelt following intense lobbying by the catholic fraternity of the Knights of Columbus.
Columbus Day is shrouded in controversy, with opposition dating back to the 19th century. Many of the opponents reject the holiday because of its association with Catholicism. Others including Native Americans, oppose Columbus Day because the discovery of the Americas indirectly resulted in the death of millions of people as a result of wars and as a result of European diseases such as smallpox that were brought over by European settlers.
As a result of the opposition that exists, alternative days have been proposed that include the ‘Dia de la Raza’ which is a celebration of Hispanic culture’s diverse roots. Some American cities and states have replaced Columbus Day with days of remembrance for example, Hawaii has discoverers day. However, Columbus Day still exists in many parts of the US and it has evolved into a celebration of Italian-American heritage with street fairs, food and activities.