Why do we have a holiday for Columbus?

Christopher Columbus lands somewhere in the Caribbean and wonders: "Where the hell are we?"
Christopher Columbus lands somewhere in the Caribbean and wonders: “Where the hell are we?”

Today is a holiday.

Banks are closed.  No mail deliveries.

Why?  It’s Columbus Day, a 24-hour period set aside to honor the man who may or may not have discovered America.

Christopher Columbus, an Italian, set sail westward in 1492 on ships owned by Spain and funded by the Catholic Monarchs of that country, seeking a new route towards Asia.  Instead he ran into an island in the Bahamas and called it “San Salvador.”

He wasn’t the first to find more land, not Japan, on ventures westward out of Europe.  Leif Erikson did that in the 11th Century.  Columbus, however, sailed the Atlantic on four voyages to our part of the world and his efforts are credited to triggering the European effort to colonize the region, first in Hispaniola.  He helped bring slaves to the region and, history tells us, triggered the events that wiped out the native tribes of Hispaniola.

Columbus never set foot on the land that became the United States.  His voyages landed on what is now Cuba and other islands to South and once to what is now South America.

Another Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci determined an even larger land mass beyond the Caribbean islands — a mass dubbed “the New World” and later “Americus.”

Which, we guess, is why we live today in the “United States of America” and not the “United States of Columbia.”

So why do we honor Christopher Columbus as the man considered the man who “discovered America?”

Damn good question.

Reminds us of the beginning of an classic Ogden Nash poem about the history of our country.

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two,
Someone sailed the ocean blue.
Somebody borrowed the fare in Spain
For a business trip on the bounding main,

And to prove to the people, by actual test,
You could get to the East by sailing West.
Somebody said, Sail on! Sail on!

And studied China and China’s lingo,
And cried from the bow, There’s China now!
And promptly bumped into San Domingo.

Somebody murmured, Oh dear, oh dear!
I’ve discovered the Western Hemisphere.

Have a happy Columbus Day.

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