Columbus Day has been celebrated in certain pockets of the United States since the colonial period and has been a federal holiday since 1937. Up until the past few decades Columbus has enjoyed a glowing reputation as daring explorer, fearless captain, and a source of inspiration for all would be adventurers to new and unfounded lands. We now know that much of his storied past was fiction. He and his crew frequently murdered, raped, and enslaved the locals in order to claim their land and get free labor for sugar cane fields. To top it all off, we also know that Columbus wasn’t even the first European explorer to the America’s. Lief Erickson is thought to have landed in Newfoundland as many as 500 years prior to Columbus’ arrival.
So why do we set aside a day every year to celebrate him? Well, the answer is a little complicated. There’s a certain amount of Italian-American pride wrapped up in the celebration of Columbus day. As the newest wave of immigrants in the 19th century, they were subjected to ethnic as well as religious discrimination. In the midst of these anti-Italian sentiments, many considered the celebration as a way for the marginalized group to gain acceptance. While I think that this is a very worthwhile purpose for a holiday, I still think that there’s are still very good reasons for the name change. One, there are a ton of more deserving Italians/Italian Americans that could be elevated to holiday status, and Two, celebrating Columbus Day seems like a slap in the face for all of the people he displaced or enslaved to suit his needs.
Many cities/municipalities (or even whole states) have already decided to do away with the Columbus Day, instead opting to rename the holiday to either some form of Indigenous People’s or Native American Day or Italian Heritage Day in honor of Italian Americans. Click on these links to learn more about the various ways people celebrate this holiday.
If you do choose to observe Indigenous People’s Day, here are 5 ways to make the most of your decision:
- Attend an event in your area. Many of the cities that celebrate Indigenous People’s Day have a whole schedule of events from community feasts to powwows and parades. Contact your local cultural center or do a quick google search to find out more about events in your area.
- Cook a Native American Dish. I’ve always believed that one of the best ways to learn about any given culture is through their food. While the term Native American is a little vague and the specific cuisine will probably differ from tribe to tribe, I’ve included a few that are sure to be crowd pleasers.
3. Visit your local museum. Museums and cultural centers are treasure troves of information. Considering stopping by your local museum to learn more about native cultures.
4. Create your own holiday and traditions. Sure, if we’re going around making up holidays, any day could technically be holiday. This one, however, is federally recognized which means that there’s a good chance that you and/or your children will be off work or school. It’s the perfect time to make new family traditions or improve on some old ones.
(Photo Credit – Photo by Light Brigading -Creative Commons License)