This Monday is Columbus Day, a federal holiday, although that doesn’t mean much this year, seeing as federal employees have the day off regardless due to the government shutdown. However it’s still important to recognize why we celebrate the second Monday in October as Columbus Day.
Columbus Day has been celebrated since the colonial era, although it didn’t become an official federal holiday until 1937. In 1792, the new state of New York held a 300 hundred year anniversary celebration of Columbus’s discovery of the New York. President Benjamin Harrison urged the country to commemorate the 400th anniversary on 1892, and schools throughout America were required to use to the day to teach the ideals of patriotism to students.
Historically, Columbus Day as also been celebrated as a cultural festival for Italian Americans. Angelo Noce, a first generation Italian, is remembered as being responsible for the lobbying efforts that first made Columbus Day a state holiday in Colorado. After that Noce enlisted the Knights of Columbus to bring national attention to the holiday, with Franklin Roosevelt signing it as a federal holiday in 1937.
As a federal holiday, the U.S. postal service, banks, federal agencies, state and local governments, most school districts and some businesses are all closed in observance of the day.
States celebrate Columbus Day in different ways. New York City holds the largest parade in the country, while San Francisco has the oldest continually running festival, started by Nicola Larco in 1868. On the flip side, Hawaii, South Dakota, and Alaska do not commemorate Columbus Day at all. Hawaii instead celebrates Discoverers Day, while South Dakota has renamed it Native American Day. Various city governments throughout the country have followed suit in using the day to celebrate indigenous peoples rather than Christopher Columbus.
There has been consistent criticism over the celebration of Columbus day. Many argue that it is wrong to celebrate a European discovery that resulted in the mass killings of the indigenous populations on the American continent.
In Washington D.C., there is traditionally a wreath laying ceremony involving the Marine Corps Color Guard and the Knights of Columbus at the Columbus monument in front of Union Station. However, due to the government shutdown, this will likely not take place. There will still likely be a handful of Columbus Day protestors there regardless.