WASHINGTON, D.C. (10/14/13) – Columbus Day is a U.S. holiday that memorializes the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World on October 12, 1492. Columbus Day has been unofficially celebrated in a number of cities since the 18th century. However, it didn’t become a federal holiday until 1937.
Throughout history, Columbus Day has been honored for Columbus’ achievements and to celebrate Italian-American heritage. This holiday also spawned controversy and in recent years, many alternatives to the holiday have appeared.
The Italian-born explorer had set sail two months prior to his land date that was backed by Spanish Monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Columbus originally intended to visit China, India and the fabled spice and gold islands of Asia. Instead, he landed in the Bahamas becoming the very first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings set up colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland during the 10th century.
After a month upon his arrival, Columbus sighted Cuba thinking it was the mainland of China and then that following December his expedition found Hispaniola, which he thought was Japan.
There in Hispaniola, Columbus setup Spain’s first colony in the Americas with 39 of his men. After his establishment, in March of 1443, Columbus returned to Spain and brought back spices, gold and what he thought were “Indian” captives.
He crossed the Atlantic several times before his death in 1506. By this third journey, he finally discovered that he never reached Asia but that he stumbled upon a continent that had been previously unknown to Europe.
The very first Columbus Day celebration took place in 1792 in New York’s Columbian Order (Tammy Hall). In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation to encourage Americans to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage.
By 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day as a national holiday that would be celebrated every second Monday in October.
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