Today is the actual birthday of Christopher Columbus. On Monday, his birthday is formally observed as a national holiday.
WHY COLUMBUS MATTERS
The current fascination with multi-culturalism makes Columbus and his holiday more necessary than ever before in our history.
Columbus matters because after him came millions of other Europeans who brought their art, music, science, medicine, philosophy and religious principles to America.
Columbus matters because Greek democracy, Roman law, Judeo-Christian ethics and the tenet
that all men are created equal are all European contributions that have made the United States what it is today.
Columbus matters because his holiday recognizes not only the achievements of a great
Renaissance explorer, but the success of the millions of immigrants from all over the world, including Europe, who followed him, seeking religious freedom, political stability and the chance to give their children a better tomorrow.
COLUMBUS AS INSPIRATION
Columbus Day is a reminder that from its earliest beginnings, the struggling American republic
found its inspiration in the figure of Columbus. In fact, October 12th is one of America’s oldest holidays, first celebrated in 1792 on the 300th anniversary of his first voyage.
In the early years of the American republic, Columbus was an American icon, admired as much as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The nation’s capital was named for him and his image is captured in paintings and statues throughout the Capitol Building, the very seat of American government.
By the 19th century, Columbus had become a symbol of American patriotism.
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 in honor of the 400th anniversary of his first voyage. Also that year, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day a legal holiday and Columbus was hailed as the symbol of America’s achievements and progress and even as a saint, led by God to the New World.
COLUMBUS AS ICON
Columbus is an icon to most Italian Americans for another reason. His holiday commemorates the arrival on these shores of more than 5 million of their ancestors more than a century ago. Today, their children and grandchildren constitute the nation’s fifth largest ethnic group, but despite their numbers and sterling record of achievement, Italian Americans are routinely stereotyped in this nation as goons and/or buffoons.
Columbus Day is the only holiday on which the nation officially recognizes the presence if not the contributions of an estimated 16 to 26 million Italian Americans. For that reasons, organizations like the Sons of Italy, lobbied for years to make it a federal holiday. They succeeded in 1971 when Congress passed a law declaring the second Monday in October Columbus Day in all 50 states.
From Why Columbus Matters by Dona DeSanctis