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Columbus Day, Monday October 10

United States celebrates Columbus' voyage

Posted: October 9, 2005 > Columbus Day Additional Resources  

Costumed 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)

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 Hemisphere.

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 South America.

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:

(begin text)

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 voyage.

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.


(end text)

Source: U.S. Department of State IIP




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