Some states are replacing Columbus Day as holiday
Published 4:19 pm Friday, October 8, 2021
Besides bank closings, what’s it mean? October 14, 2021?
The second Monday in October has traditionally been known as Columbus Day in honor of the Italian explorer’s “discovery” of the Americas on October 12, 1492. However, the U.S. federal holiday, which will be celebrated on October 11 this year, has always been controversial due to the European settlers’ cruel treatment of the Native American people.
No matter what you might have read in grammar school, few people in Columbus’ time still thought the world was flat. But they had no idea how large the globe actually was. Some say Columbus himself had underestimated it at 1/6 its size. Of course, when he set out to sail the ocean blue in 1492, he had no idea about another whole continent in his way. Or anything about the Pacific Ocean, the largest ocean on the planet.
But Christopher Columbus was important because he set out. We don’t recognize him today for his principles or his purity. But for his audacity and nerve.
Christopher Columbus was a man of his time. He may not have been a good man, but it’s enough that he was an important man.
History also shows that while Columbus was border-line brilliant when it came to navigation — he could look at the stars and make a pretty good guess at where he was, without instruments — he was lacking when it came to administration. In fact, he faced mutinies as governor of the Caribbean and at one point was slapped in irons. Arrested! And he had to reclaim his name and reputation back in Spain.
Still, Christopher Columbus was important. Not because he was good. Or even first. But because he was a visionary, and his voyages forever transformed the world, and bridged the hemispheres.
Even if he was a man of his unfortunate time, Christopher Columbus was a far piece ahead of his time when it came to daring. He had no GPS. He had no motors. He had no satellite photos. He had only a vision.
If the Earth was round, you could sail around it. Still, at the time, nobody had any idea about the size of the Atlantic, which Europeans simply called the Ocean Sea. Who was to say it would take only five weeks to bump into land? Why not five months? Or five years? Somebody from Europe, obviously, was going to reach out far enough one day. But fate could have chosen anybody, a decade before, or a decade later. Instead, fate chose Christopher Columbus. Today we don’t celebrate him as much as recognize him and his importance. And as important a man as he was in the history of mankind, most of us wouldn’t know that he found the Indies in mid-October if today we didn’t notice the bank being closed. We keep up with significant historical dates. But not October 12, 1492.
Some people won’t honor him at all today, or even recognize him. Instead, they’ll recognize Indigenous Peoples Day. They’ll tell us that we shouldn’t recognize anybody from Europe who handed such a fate to Native American peoples. And also scold us. It reminds us that once we were told not to quote Mencken, another man of his time, because of some things he said, and wrote. Should we put aside all our Dickens’ quotes, too, or our store of Twain’s, for the same reasons? We’d prefer to separate the art from the artist. Without such a habit, our history books would be filled with asterisks, instead of real stories.
The United States has had its share of sins, too. But that doesn’t stop us from celebrating Independence Day. Or shouldn’t. Besides, how could we blame Columbus for the consequences of his discoveries? He didn’t even realize what he’d discovered! In the end, he was a remarkable man, a gifted navigator, and an acceptable diarist. But mostly, a traveler.
And, that is why we celebrate Columbus Day — not because he was a good man, but because of his maritime accomplishments.