Why We Celebrate Columbus Day

Courtesy of Via Meadia:

The usual grumblings attend the day on which we commemorate the most famous illegal immigrant in the history of the Americas, an undocumented wanderer from Spain who brought plagues, fire and the sword from the Old World to the New.

Columbus Day is our most confused holiday celebration, one in which the public understanding of the day has shifted the farthest from the intent of those who instituted the observance.

In American history, the fight to make a holiday on Columbus Day actually had almost nothing to do with the actual arrival of Christopher Columbus in the western hemisphere. It wasn’t about celebrating the European conquest of the Americas or the extirpation of the native tribes.

The day was made a holiday after years of lobbying as a way of recognizing the contribution of Roman Catholics and immigrants generally to American life. It is a holiday to celebrate diversity, not to commemorate the imperial outreach of Ferdinand and Isabella, a deeply regrettable couple who were notorious oath breakers, inquisitors and anti-Semites.

Columbus Day is not an imperialistic holiday. It is a celebration of American diversity, a long overdue recognition of the importance of Catholics and immigrants in American life. It is a celebration we share with our Hispanic neighbors in the New World and it is a day that testifies to our growing understanding that religious and ethnic pluralism aren’t problems for our American heritage; pluralism is central to our identity as a people.

That American Indian activists want to use the day to make a point is OK with me; they have a point to make. But Columbus Day is a holiday that was created to celebrate the dignity and equality of Americans regardless of origin or creed, and that in my view is an excellent reason for the country to take the day off.

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