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Columbus Day: What Does it Mean to You?

Columbus Day

Columbus Day Celebrations

As you probably already know, Monday is Columbus Day.

What does this mean to you? If you’re lucky, you have the day off from work. And your kids have the day off from school.

Like Memorial Day and Labor Day, Columbus Day is one of those holidays that prompts weekend trips, sales, parades and family outings. But what does it really stand for?

Obviously, it is meant to honor Christopher Columbus who, as the story goes, discovered America. But we know by now that the story is only partially true — Columbus was the first European to discover America (on October 12, 1492). But it was already inhabited by native Americans.

President Roosevelt proclaimed October 12 as “Columbus Day” in 1937 and in 1971, the federal government officially declared the second Monday of October a national holiday.

But Columbus Day has different meanings for different people. Some Italian-Americans celebrate Columbus day as a day of pride in their heritage and culture.

In Berkeley, California, they have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. In South Dakota, they celebrate Native America Day. Hawaii calls it Discoverer’s Day.

In observance of the day, performance artist James Luna (Puyukitchum [Luiseno]) invites the public to “Take a Picture with a Real Indian” at The Christopher Columbus statue at Union Station’s Columbus Plaza in Washington DC. The performance is presented by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in conjunction with its exhibition, Vantage Point: The Contemporary Native Art Collection.

In our family, we plan to celebrate by checking out the Fall colors in upstate New York.

I also plan to talk to my kids about what it means to be an explorer and an adventurer and how Columbus took many risks to attain his goal. But I’ll also be sure to remind them that there were people already living in America when he “discovered” it.

How do you plan to celebrate the holiday? And what will you tell your kids about Columbus?

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photo: wikimedia/US Navy

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