Columbus Day

On the 300th Anniversary (1742) of Christopher Columbus’s landing in what is now Bermuda, the Columbian Order in New York held the first celebration of his feat. Italian Americans began to celebrate Columbus Day to recognize their Italian heritage, not Christopher Columbus as an individual. Columbus Day became a holiday in 1907 in many states across America.

In 1892, the 400th Anniversary of Columbus’ landing, eleven Italian immigrants were lynched in New Orleans. President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day as a national holiday for a one-time celebration. The Pledge of Allegiance was written for this celebration.

Columbus Day did not return as a National Day of Celebration until 1934 at the urging of the Italian-American community. President Franklin Roosevelt issued a proclamation honoring October 12 as a day of celebrating the landing of Columbus in the New World. The proclamation, however, did not make Columbus Day a federal holiday.

With Italy becoming an enemy of the U.S. during World War II, Italian Americans were considered to be enemy aliens and lost their rights as citizens. President Franklin Roosevelt removed that designation on October 12, 1942, and granted citizenship to 200,000 elderly Italian Americans who had never been able to pass the literacy requirement for citizenship.

Legislation to make Columbus Day a federal holiday was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. In 1971, the first federal Columbus Day was initiated as the second Monday in October. While it is a federal holiday, many states do not recognize it as a state holiday.

Columbus Day has become controversial as many parts of the country have decided to replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. While we think of Columbus Day as a U.S. holiday, it is also observed in many Latin American countries. Those who are anti-immigrant or anti-Catholic have also been opposed to Columbus Day.

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“Discovery consists of not seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust (novelist)

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