Happy Columbus Day! What are You Going to Do to Celebrate?

If you’re like most Americans, you probably aren’t doing anything at all. That wasn’t always the case. It used to be that Italian-Americans saw Columbus Day as an opportunity to honor their heritage, complete with parades and other festivities.

A handful of such parades survive, but they’re few and far between. San Francisco’s Columbus Day Parade, which has been running continuously since 1868, has been the “Italian Heritage Parade” since 1994 with Queen Isabella usurping Christopher Columbus as the historical life of the party.

As a holiday, Columbus Day has been badly eclipsed

The reality is that Columbus Day has been sadly eclipsed. Several states refuse to observe it at all, while several others have replaced it with makeshift holidays of their own. The most popular replacement seems to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which is now observed by the state of Vermont and South Dakota, as well as dozens of cities across the country.

The most recent convert away from Columbus-ism is Salt Lake City, Utah, which will celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time this year. Their city council unanimously voted to support the new designation just days before the usual Columbus Day non-celebrations were slated not to begin.

“This change, while symbolic, is about recognizing the contributions, history and sacrifices made by the original inhabitants of the area,” said Moroni Benally, co-founder of the Utah League of Native American Voters. “It is about correcting history and building a stronger country.”

Correcting history, or politically correct history?

The move to “correct” history is gaining momentum, as the conventional historical consensus is that Christopher Columbus was not a great explorer who discovered America, but rather a genocidal monster who should be despised alongside all despots and tyrants on the ash heap of history.

The recent controversy over confederate statues in Virginia has sparked calls for all memorials to Columbus to suffer a similar fate. Canadian writer Stephen Marche wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times where he called for the famous statue in the heart of New York City to come down. “A blank at the heart of Columbus Circle where a person once stood would suit our moment perfectly,” he said.

That would be the easy part. Expunging all references to Columbus from American civic life would also require renaming the country’s capitol, as “District of Columbia” would likely be unable to survive the purge, too. The fact is that Christopher Columbus, for good or ill, is still at the center of American history

One-sided depictions of historical figures do us a disservice

And while he was by no means the secular saint depicted in hagiographies of previous centuries, it is also wrong to portray him as a 15th Century Hitler. One-sided depictions of historical figures do a disservice to our understanding of the past, as they’re inaccurate by definition, regardless of which side you pick.

Outrage over Columbus seems misplaced when apathy seems to be doing the job all on its own. Indifference is the true spirit of Columbus Day. Remember that when you go to your mailbox today and wonder why there’s nothing there.


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