Goodbye, Columbus: a holiday with deep Catholic roots is disappearing

Goodbye, Columbus: a holiday with deep Catholic roots is disappearing October 8, 2018

Incredible, but true, via USA TODAY: 

The city of Columbus, Ohio, will not observe the controversial federal holiday honoring its namesake, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, for the first time this year.

Wikipedia/Public Domain

City offices are instead scheduled to close on Veterans Day in November, though a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the decision was not spurred by movements to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, a counter-celebration held on the same day to commemorate Native Americans.

Critics say the holiday honors the mass genocide and colonization of Native Americans, who lived in the Americas long before Christopher Columbus arrived in October 1492, while Italian-American organizations say the movement comes at the expense of a time to celebrate their ethnic heritage.

Ohio’s capital city is the most populated city named after Columbus, with 860,000 people in the 2016 U.S. census. The city, however, lacks the funding to give its 8,500 employees both Veterans Day and Columbus Day off, said Robin Davis, a spokesperson for Mayor Andrew Ginther.

Some may be surprised to learn that it is largely a federal holiday because of lobbying efforts of the Knights of Columbus. Some background:  

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, largely as a result of intense lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, an influential Catholic fraternal organization.

Controversy over 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 resulted in the colonization of the Americas, the beginnings of the transatlantic slave trade and the deaths of millions from murder and disease.

European settlers brought a host of infectious diseases, including smallpox and influenza, that decimated indigenous populations. Warfare between Native Americans and European colonists claimed many lives as well.

In many Latin American nations, the anniversary of Columbus’ landing has traditionally been observed as the Dìa de la Raza (“Day of the Race”), a celebration of Hispanic culture’s diverse roots. In 2002, Venezuela renamed the holiday Dìa de la Resistencia Indìgena (“Day of Indigenous Resistance”) to recognize native peoples and their experience.

Several U.S. cities and states have replaced Columbus Day with alternative days of remembrance. AlaskaHawaiiOregon and South Dakota have officially replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, as have cities like Denver, Phoenix and Los Angeles.


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