The ideas of discovery and learning are wonderful concepts for a holiday. We should understand the significance of exploration and progress in world history. It’s just unfortunate that Columbus was chosen as the icon for this concept.
Everyone knows Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America. Other people were already living here, so that’s out. He wasn’t even the first to land here from Europe, because it’s pretty clear that Leif Ericson got here much earlier than he did, around 1000 A.D. (So Leif Ericson Day would make more sense, right? Not so fast! Accounts say he rescued men who were shipwrecked here…so even he wasn’t the first European to land here.) So maybe Columbus was not really the best option to put forward as the focus for a holiday about discovery and exploration.
The Greeks established much earlier than 1492 that the world was not flat, so Columbus might have been brave to set out across the ocean in a ship, but he knew very well he would not fall off the edge of the world. We also know his visits brought sickness, death, and slavery to the native people living here.
I’m proud of Seattle and other places in the country that have taken steps to re-brand the holiday to focus on something worthy of remembrance. Seattle and Minneapolis are the latest to rename Columbus Day. They have chosen to call it Indigenous Peoples’ Day, honoring the Native American traditions and peoples that lived here first. Hawaii celebrates Discovery Day, which also seems very appropriate.
I also ran across this great post suggesting Bartolomé Day instead of Columbus Day, honoring an explorer from the same era who focused on human rights instead of exploitation. Sounds like a step in the right direction to me.