History of Columbus Day

Christopher Columbus landing in America, 1492

Columbus Day, celebrated on October 12, commemorates the first sighting by Christopher Columbus’s crew of the New World.

In the United States, Columbus Day is observed every year on or around October 12 to commemorate the first sightings of the New World. The discovery made by Christopher Columbus and his crew helped lead the way of the exploration of the Western Hemisphere.

Christopher Columbus Sees the New World

According to the Library of Congress, a sailor aboard the Pinta saw land early on the morning of October 12, 1492, after departing from Palos, Spain, nearly ten weeks earlier.

On October 13, Columbus’s three ship fleet and crew landed on the island of Ganahani in the Bahamas. As a reward for his valuable discovery, the Spanish monarchy granted Columbus the right to bear arms and changed his family’s coat of arms to include a pair of islands, which Columbus himself further modified.

History of Columbus Day in the United States

The first Columbus Day was celebrated on October 12, 1792, by The Society of Saint Tammany, also known as the Columbian Order, to mark the 300th anniversary of Christopher Columbus discovering the New World.

A century later, however, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation urging citizens to mark the day of October 12 as Columbus Day. While it was not yet an official holiday, schools and communities responded with enthusiasm and planned plays, programs, and special events to mark the discovery of the New World.

There were differing opinions as to how October 12 should be celebrated. For the next fifteen years, the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic fraternal organization, urged state and federal lawmakers to make Columbus Day a legal holiday. Success was slow at first, but on April 1, 1907, Colorado became the first state to declare Columbus Day an official holiday. New York was the next day to declare October 12 the official holiday, and on Columbus Day in 1909, Governor Charles Evans Hughes led an elaborate parade of the crew members of two ships, members of Italian American societies, and divisions of the Knights of Columbus.

Celebrating Columbus Day Today

Columbus Day was not observed on the second Monday in October until 1971, nearly five hundred years after Columbus and his crew first sighted the New World. The day’s status as an official federal holiday meant that all federal agencies, schools, and banks would close so that citizens could celebrate.

Columbus Day had been officially observed every October 12 since the 1930s, butsince the actual date could fall in the middle of week and cause disruptions to various kinds of government services, President Richard Nixon changed the day of the government’s observance of the holiday to its current day. Schools may schedule special programs or lessons to celebrate Columbus Day, while communities or local organizations may plan dinners, programs, or special events to celebrate the holiday.

Columbus Day, celebrated on October 12, is a relatively new holiday in the United States despite its historical significance. There are many ways that the holiday is observed in order to commemorate the discovery of the New World.