On Monday, Oct. 8, Columbus Day will be celebrated in the United States. It is a day set aside each year – the second Monday in October – to commemorate the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World on Oct. 12, 1492.
|Christopher Columbus. Image credit: ushistoryimage.com|
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 landed in the Bahamas, becoming the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings set up colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland during the 10th century.
Columbus Day in the United States
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."
|Christopher Columbus monument, Schenley Park, Pittsburg, Pa. Image credit: Wikipedia|
Columbus Day did not become a national holiday until 1937, when President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed it as such, largely as a result of intense lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, an influential Catholic fraternal benefits organization, to honor Columbus' achievements and celebrate Italian-American heritage (or, as some charged, to capture the vote of the Italian-American community in the presidential election!).
Originally observed every October 12, it was fixed to the second Monday in October in 1971.
The Columbus Day Controversy
Opposition to Columbus Day dates back to the 19th century, when anti-immigrant groups in the United States rejected the holiday because of its association with Catholicism.
In recent decades, Native Americans and other groups have protested the celebration of an event that indirectly resulted in the colonization of the Americas and the death of millions: European settlers brought a host of infectious diseases, including smallpox and influenza, that decimated indigenous populations; warfare between Native Americans and the colonists claimed many lives as well.
The image of Christopher Columbus as an intrepid hero has also been called into question. Upon arriving in the Bahamas, the explorer and his men forced the native peoples they found there into slavery; later, while serving as the governor of Hispaniola, he allegedly imposed barbaric forms of punishment, including torture.
|First Landing of Columbus on the Shores of the New World, after the painting by Discoro Téofilo de la PueblaImage. Image credit: Wikipedia|
History has made it clear that Columbus was not the first person to discover America, and there's some controversy that he may not deserve a holiday in his honor. Christopher Columbus did, however, usher in a new era of exploration and conquest in the west.
There is a movement afoot to designate the day “Exploration Day,” to honor all explorers, including NASA astronauts for space exploration.
Columbus Day Traditions
School children recite the first verse of the little poem “In 1492”:
In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
In many parts of the United States, Columbus Day remains a celebration of Italian-American heritage. Local groups host parades and street fairs featuring colorful costumes, music and Italian food.
|Toys "R" us Columbus Day sale ad.|
In most cities and towns, it’s an opportunity for retail stores to promote their huge “Columbus Day Sales.” Very American, don’t you think?
A few things I learned about Columbus while conducting a bit of research about the holiday:
- Christopher Columbus is an English translation of Chrisoffa Corombo, Columbus’ real name.
- Columbus never actually set foot on U.S. soil. He landed on an island in the Bahamas.
- Columbus had 23 people testify against him, charging him with atrocities and cruelty, while he was governor of the colony Hispaniola.
- Columbus was an opium addict, the same drug used in producing modern-day heroin.
- No one knows what Columbus really looked like. Paintings depicting Columbus are not based on his actual looks.
- There is genetic evidence that Columbus and his men brought the sexually transmitted disease Syphilis to Europe.
And on a completely different topic, I've been asked to post my recipe for Pumpkin Bread, an easy recipe and oh so good:
|Not my picture but my loaf looks like this. Photo Credit: allrecipes.com|
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 cup pumpkin
1-3/4 cups flour
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup nuts
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Add sugar to oil. Add remaining ingredients. Pour into greased loaf pan. Fill half full. Bake 350 degrees F. for 60-70 minutes.
Depending on size of loaf pan, you might have enough batter for two loaves. If so, adjust baking times accordingly. Test with a toothpick; bread is done when toothpick comes out clean.