Monday, October 10, 2011 is Columbus Day which has been observed annually since 1971 on the second Monday of October to remember Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas on October 12, 1492. It’s a holiday for most of the U.S. federal government, several U.S. states as well as banks and post offices. Unfortunately for most of us in the private business world, it’s a regular work day. According to survey data, approximately 16% of U.S. businesses observe Columbus Day as a paid holiday. Thus, most of us observe it as a light traffic day to and from work along with the fact that the bank is closed and no mail that day.
Although the Columbus Day holiday has officially been around for more than 100 years (first officially celebrated in Colorado in 1905) and is celebrated by many including Italian-Americans throughout the U.S. and with celebrations and parades in cities such as New York, San Francisco and Denver, the day is also filled with increasing controversy over the last several decades as many critics feel that Columbus’ arrival in the New World opened the doors to hundreds of years of exploitation and genocide.
Today, although several states including New York, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Virginia and Colorado mark Columbus Day as a state holiday, there are more than 20 U.S. states that do no observe Columbus Day as a holiday any longer including California, Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan and Washington. Especially noteworthy is South Dakota that celebrates an alternative state holiday known as “Native American Day” rather than Columbus Day. In addition, Hawaii celebrates Discoverers’ Day, which commemorates the Polynesian discoverers of Hawaii on the same date as the federal Columbus Day. However, Discoverers’ Day isn’t a legal state holiday for Hawaii.
Columbus Day has been prominently under attack for the past several years by the United Native America, a group fighting for a federal holiday honoring Native Americans. The group’s main agenda is to rename Columbus Day to “Italian Heritage Day” and put it somewhere else on the calendar and then claim the second Monday in October as “Native American Day” as is already observed in South Dakota.
To counter this attack, Columbus’s defenders don’t seem to be prepared to watch their hero’s holiday sail off the edge of the earth. They say he should be celebrated for risking his life to explore the world and for forgoing modern ties between Europe and the Americas. Although his supporters recognize that Columbus took slaves back to Spain and opened the door to the conquistadors who killed Native Americans, they insist that a great deal of today’s criticism is built on judging a 16th century man by 21st century standards. 10-06-2011. HRM Partners.