Columbus Day – A National Holiday

Columbus Day – A National Holiday

Columbus Day is a national holiday that commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World on October 12, 1492. It was unofficially celebrated in a number of cities and states as early as the 18th century, but did not become a national holiday until the 1937. For many, the holiday is a way of both honoring Columbus’ achievements and celebrating Italian American heritage.

The Italian-born explorer had set sail two months earlier, backed by the Spanish monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. He intended to chart a western sea route to China, India and the fabled gold and Spice Islands of Asia. Instead, he became the first to explore the Americas.

In 1892, New Yorkers celebrated the 400th anniversary of the great nevigator’s landing in the New World for seven days. It was known as Columbus Week.

In March 1493, the explorer returned to Spain in triumph, bearing gold and spices. He crossed the Atlantic several more times before his death in 1506. By his third journey, he realized that he had not reached Asia, but instead had found a continent previously unknown to Europeans.

The first Columbus Day celebration took place in 1792, when New York’s Columbian Order, better known as Tammany Hall, held an event to commemorate the historic landing’s 300th anniversary. Taking pride in Columbus’ birthplace and faith, Italian and Catholic communities in various parts of the country began organizing annual religious ceremonies and parades in his honor. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation encouraging Americans to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage with patriotic festivities, writing, “On that day let the people, so far as possible, cease from toil and devote themselves to such exercises as may best express honor to the discoverer and their appreciation of the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life.”

In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday. Originally observed every October 12, it was fixed to the second Monday in October after the Uniform Holiday Bill was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. In many parts of the United States, Columbus Day has evolved into a celebration of Italian American heritage with parades, music and of course, Italian food.

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