Before I lived in Oregon, Columbus Day was that nice three-day weekend that took the edge off the long working weeks between Labor Day and Thanksgiving (unless you work for an employer who believes Veterans Day is a holiday*). As a newly minted Oregonian, I had a job talking up workplace giving (most commonly associated with the United Way, although I was working for EarthShare) and I started out my pitch on October 8, 1990 mentioning that as an Italian-American, I was really missing the Columbus Day holiday. I cannot express how completely I lost my audience. Welcome to Oregon, where the arrival of the Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, to the Caribbean in 1492 is viewed a little more skeptically than it is on the Eastern Seaboard. (They have a parade in New York!)
Columbus Day is not a holiday in these parts. Other cities or states have replaced it with recognition for the people who were residing on this continent when Columbus arrived, most recently our Seattle neighbors. Most of Latin America celebrates the day as Día de la Raza (Day of the Latino [mixed Spanish and indigenous] People), commemorating the initial meeting of the two. According to the article from the President of Mexico’s website linked in the previous sentence, the relationship between the indigenous people and their Spanish conquerors was different than that between the native North Americans and the northern Europeans who settled in what is now the United States, and is still worth celebrating.
The new United States held a small celebration in 1792 and a larger one 100 years later, according to the Library of Congress. This latter celebration ultimately led to the establishment of the national holiday by Franklin Roosevelt in 1934. But as the 500th anniversary approached in 1992, the eagerness to celebrate the “discovery” of the Americas had waned. Perhaps it’s time for the day to be consigned to history, or at least “downgraded” to a holiday a la St. Patrick’s Day (there’s another New York parade on that day, but it’s not a national holiday).
Take a moment this weekend to remember a great storm, Thanksgiving in Canada, other things Italian, or even Leif Ericson. Better yet, take a look at these books to see what life was like in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus.
In spite of everything, I'd still like that three-day weekend back.
*My employer, Multnomah County, believes this to be the case, but at the library we’re open on Veterans Day; we take an “official” holiday on the day before Christmas.