DID YOU KNOW . . . Columbus Day

Today is the official celebration of Columbus Day in the United States which remembers the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, which occurred on October 12, 1492.

The event is called Columbus Day in the United States, but is known as Día de la Raza (translated as “Day of the Race”) in most countries throughout Latin America. It is called Discovery Day in the Bahamas, Día de la Hispanidad (translated as “Day of the Hispanic World”) or Fiesta Nacional in Spain, Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural (Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity) in Argentina, and Día de las Américas (Day of the Americas) in Belize and Uruguay. These holidays have been celebrated unofficially since the late 18th century, and officially in various areas since the early 20th century.

In the United States, Columbus Day first became an official state holiday in Colorado in 1906, and became a federal holiday in 1937, however, people have celebrated Columbus’ voyage since the colonial period. In 1792, New York City and other U.S. cities celebrated the 300th anniversary of his landing in the New World. During the four hundredth anniversary, in 1892, teachers, preachers, poets and politicians used Columbus Day rituals to teach ideals of patriotism. These patriotic rituals were framed around themes such as support for war, citizenship boundaries, the importance of loyalty to the nation, and celebrating social progress.

Columbus Day was first popularized as a holiday in the United States through the lobbying of Angelo Noce, a first generation Italian, in Denver in the early 20th Century. The first official, regular Columbus Day holiday was proclaimed by Colorado governor Jesse F. McDonald in 1905 and made a statutory holiday in 1907. In April 1934 Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made October 12 a federal holiday under the name Columbus Day.

Since 1971, the holiday has been fixed to the second Monday in October, coincidentally the same day as Thanksgiving in neighboring Canada (which was fixed to that date in 1959). It is generally observed by banks, the bond market, the U.S. Postal Service and other federal agencies, most state government offices, and some school districts.

San Francisco claims the nation’s oldest continuously existing celebration with the Italian-American community’s annual Columbus Day Parade, which was established in 1868, while New York City boasts the largest celebration. Virginia celebrates two legal holidays on this day, both Columbus Day and Yorktown Victory Day, which honors the final victory at the Siege of Yorktown in the Revolutionary War.

Actual observance varies greatly in different parts of the United States, ranging from large-scale parades in support of the holiday in some areas to replacement events to stress non-observance of the holiday in others.

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