Columbus Day is the annual U.S. commemoration
of Christopher Columbus's landing in the New World (at San
Salvador island, also known as Waitling Island, today part
of the British Bahamas) on October 12, 1492. Columbus was
not the first European successfully to cross the Atlantic.
Viking sailors are believed to have established a short-lived
settlement in Newfoundland sometime in the 11th Century, and
scholars have argued for a number of other possible pre-Columbian
landings. Columbus, however, initiated the lasting encounter
between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of the Western
riders in the "Carroccio", a medieval
pageant, line up during the 2002 Columbus
Day parade in New York. The Carroccio
originated about a thousand years ago
in Italy, when the Lombard communes asserted
the principles of self-government and
rose up against the imperial authority.
(AP/WWP Photo Kathy Willens)
A number of nations celebrate this encounter
with annual holidays: Discovery Day in the Bahamas, Hispanic
Day in Spain, and Día de la Raza in much of Latin
America. In 1971, Congress moved the U.S. holiday from October
12 to the second Monday in October, to afford workers a
long holiday weekend. In the United States, Columbus Day
is typically a celebration of Italian and Italian-American
cultural heritage, Columbus generally being considered a
native of Genoa.
In the late fifteenth century, Portuguese
sailors dominated the effort to establish a sea route between
Europe and India by circumnavigating Africa. It was with
an eye toward outflanking the Portuguese that Isabella I
of Spain authorized an expedition in which Columbus would
sail west from Spain, aiming for India. This of course presumed
that the world was round. Contrary to later popular belief,
many educated people already understood this; Columbus'
achievement rests instead in his success in persuading Isabella
to finance a dangerous and speculative expedition.
Columbus set sail with 90 men in August
1492 on three ships: the Santa Maria, the Nina and the Pinta.
After sailing west for five weeks, they reached land on
October 12. Columbus believed he had found a new route to
India, hence the use of the word Indians to describe the
peoples he met.
Columbus would make three subsequent voyages
and would die believing that he had found a new route to
India and Asia, and not in fact the gateway to North and
Because the United States evolved out of
British colonization rather than the Spanish claims of Columbus
and his successors, the U.S. for many years did not celebrate
Columbus's "discovery," although ceremonies were
held on the 300th and 400th anniversaries of his first landing.
Two early celebrations also occurred in New York in 1866
and San Francisco in 1869.
Italian immigrants were the first to celebrate
the holiday annually in U.S. cities where they had settled
in large numbers, in part as a celebration of their heritage,
since Columbus was believed to be Italian. In 1937, President
Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national
holiday, then held every October 12 and now on the second
Monday in October.
U.S. federal government offices close on
Columbus Day, as do most banks. Schools typically remain
open, as do most American businesses. New York City continues
to host a large and festive Columbus Day parade, over 500
years since the historic appearance of three ships off the
coast of a small Caribbean island.
Italian-American relations lauded in president's Columbus Day proclamation
"More than 500 years after Columbus'
journey, we are honored that the Italian Republic is among
our closest friends and strongest allies," President
Bush said in the proclamation designating October 10, 2005
as Columbus Day.
Following is the text of the proclamation:
Office of the Press Secretary
October 7, 2005
Columbus Day, 2005
For Immediate Release
A Proclamation by the President of the United
States of America Christopher Columbus' journey across uncharted
waters in 1492 changed the course of history. Overcoming
many obstacles, the explorer from Genoa pursued a dream
that carried him to the "New World" and helped
launch an age of exploration, leading to the founding of
new countries across the Americas. Through the years, the
desire to discover and understand has been a part of our
Nation's character, and Columbus' spirit has inspired generations
of explorers and inventors. On Columbus Day, we honor Christopher
Columbus and the vision that carried him on his historic
Since 1934, when President Roosevelt first
proclaimed the national holiday, our Nation has observed
Columbus Day to mark the moment when the Old World met the
New. As we recognize Columbus' legacy, we also celebrate
the contributions of Italian Americans to our Nation's growth
and well being. Americans of Italian descent are musicians
and athletes, doctors and lawyers, teachers and first responders.
They are serving bravely in our Armed Forces. From our country's
first days, the sons and daughters of Italy have brought
honor to themselves and enriched our national life.
More than 500 years after Columbus' journey,
we are honored that the Italian Republic is among our closest
friends and strongest allies. On Columbus Day, we celebrate
this strong bond between America and Italy.
In commemoration of Columbus' journey, the
Congress, by joint resolution of April 30, 1934, and modified
in 1968 (36 U.S.C. 107), as amended, has requested that
the President proclaim the second Monday of October of each
year as "Columbus Day."
NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President
of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim October
10, 2005, as Columbus Day. I call upon the people of the
United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies
and activities. I also direct that the flag of the United
States be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed
day in honor of Christopher Columbus.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set
my hand this seventh day of October, in the year of our
Lord two thousand five, and of the Independence of the United
States of America the two hundred and thirtieth.
GEORGE W. BUSH
Source: U.S. Department of State