Calendar Days: Columbus Day History
Calendar Days: Columbus Day History

Calendar Days: Columbus Day History

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Christopher Columbus first set foot on the Americas, or the New World, on October 12th, 1492. Many countries have been celebrating this event since the colonial period. However, it was only in the twentieth century that Columbus Day became an official U.S. federal holiday. It is celebrated with parades and street fairs and is mostly associated with Italian-American heritage. Some states do not observe the holiday, while others choose to celebrate Native American culture and history instead. In this video, learns more about Columbus Day.

Columbus Day

Columbus Day is a U.S. federal holiday that honors Christopher Columbus’ arrival in North and South America. Each year, it falls on the second Monday in October.

Christopher Columbus

After a five-week voyage from Europe across the Atlantic Ocean, explorer and colonizer Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World on October 12th, 1492. He landed in what is now known as The Bahamas, and came across several indigenous peoples during his first voyage to the Americas.

300th Anniversary

Columbus Day was first celebrated in New York City in 1792 on the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ landing. Various cities and communities then followed suit, many of which boasted large Catholic and Italian-American populations that felt a connection to the explorer.

400th Anniversary

One hundred years later, President Benjamin Harrison pushed his fellow Americans to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage through various practices and customs that demonstrated their patriotism and loyalty.

National Holiday

After significant urging from the Catholic fraternal service organization the Knights of Columbus, the observance of Columbus Day on October 12th was made a national holiday by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937. Columbus Day was only moved to the second Monday of that same month in the 1970s.


Traditionally, Columbus Day has been celebrated with parades and street fairs, and New York City’s annual parade down Fifth Avenue is the largest of its kind. The celebration of Italian-American heritage is often prominently featured in these events, as well.


In states where Columbus Day is an official holiday, many federal agencies, government organizations, banks and schools are closed.

Resistance and Native American Day

However, some states resist the observation of Columbus Day. The reason for this stems from what some consider mistreatment of Native Americans by Europeans during colonization. Instead, these states use the day to pay tribute to indigenous peoples with Native American festivities and rituals.

Dia de la Raza
Aside from the United States, there are multiple nations that mark the arrival of Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas. More specifically, it is celebrated as the Dia de la Raza in numerous Latin American countries.

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