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Columbus Day

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Columbus Day is a holiday celebrated in many countries in the Americas, commemorating the date of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World on October 12, 1492. Columbus Day was first celebrated by Italians in San Francisco in 1869, following on the heels of 1866 Italian celebrations in New York City. The first state celebration was in Colorado in 1905, and in 1937, at the behest of the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic fraternal service organization named for the voyager), President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set aside Columbus Day as a holiday in the United States. Since 1971, the holiday has been commemorated in the U.S. on the second Monday in October.

Portrait of Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus was a European discoverer of the New World, born in Genoa, Italy. His plans to reach India by sailing West were rejected by John II of Portugal but finally supported by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. He set sail from Saltes on August 3rd, 1492 in the Santa Maria, with 50 men, and attended by the Pinta and Nina. He reached the Bahamas on October 12th, then visited Cuba and Hispaniola (Haiti), where he left a small colony. He returned March 15th, 1493 to be received with highest honors by the court. His second voyage (1493-96) led to the discovery of several Caribbean islands. During his third voyage (1498-1500) he discovered the South American mainland, but after a revolt against his command, he was sent home in irons by a newly appointed royal governor. Restored to favor in Spain, he sailed on his last great voyage (1502-4) along the South side of the Gulf of Mexico. He died at Valladolid, Spain.

Italian-Americans feel pride in the day due to the fact that Christopher Columbus, an Italian sailor, sailed to the Americas. Many royal courts were interested in financing the voyage, but Spain financed the ships for Columbus' brainchild. Other Americans are embittered by this victory for Columbus because of the ensuing genocide of Native Americans after Columbus' arrival. In the United States, Banks and government offices are closed on Columbus Day. As well as many of the offices at the Italian Embassy in Washington D.C. and the various Italian Consulates through out the US.

In the state of Minnesota, Columbus Day is not celebrated, because many people in Minnesota believe that Vikings arrived in North America before Columbus. However, in 2006, city offices in Minneapolis were closed, as well as libraries across the Twin Cities.

Some people oppose Columbus Day, claiming his achievements are not worthy of a holiday. The modern-day legend of Christopher Columbus and the discovery of America is due to Washington Irving. His "biography" of Columbus, a dramatic and embellished account, was so popular it became accepted as fact. Historically, Columbus was not the first to discover America, nor was he the first European to land in America, though he was the first European to successfully bring European culture to the Americas. There is also controversy surrounding the treatment of the native people of the Americas by Columbus and by Spanish conquistadors.

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