MONDAY, OCTOBER 8: Pay tribute to an early explorer today, as Americans rmark Columbus Day, Dia de la Raza is observed in Latin America, Discovery Day is recognized in the Bahamas and Dia de la Hispanidad occurs in Spain. (Learn more at Wikipedia or History.com.)
Dozens of countries and groups have grounded themselves in Columbus through the centuries—Italian-Americans throwing cultural heritage events on his day; the Knights of Columbus fighting early discrimination against Catholic immigrants by bearing his name (they could, after all, claim America’s founder as one of their own); and even Spaniards pointing to his explorations on behalf of their own Spanish crown. (Access kids’ crafts and recipes at Kaboose.)
Yet these days, Columbus’s Day also is met with controversy and distaste. Columbus doesn’t quite have the popularity he once did: Three states don’t observe Columbus Day at all, and the National Council of Churches asked Christians to refrain from observing Columbus’ quincentennial in 1992, claiming that “What represented newness and freedom … for some was the occasion for oppression, degradation and genocide for others.”
This year, movement away from Columbus Day is being taken one step further, as representatives of a new movement suggest that Columbus Day be renamed “Exploration Day,” to recall America’s many explorers. (Discovery.com has more.) The movement was inspired by the recent death of space explorer Neil Armstrong.
The shifting of Columbus Day is major change in American life. While citizens of the U.S. officially began observing Columbus Day in 1937, celebrations were unofficial since the colonial period.