I have to admit I have never totally understood or been a big fan of Columbus Day. And it has nothing to do with political correctness.
As a kid growing up locally, I was taught Christopher Columbus “discovered” America. Every kid my age knew the little jingle “In fourteen-hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” He was portrayed as an intrepid explorer who set out to find the New World, and although it didn’t go exactly as planned, came across North America and forever changed history.
That’s why we continue to recognize Columbus Day as a holiday. But the simple truth is, almost everything surrounding the legend and story of Columbus is false. And the real truth is not only less than flattering, but often downright awful.
Columbus believed he could find a shorter, more direct way to sail around the globe. But almost everything he believed in terms of geography and sailing was wrong. When he got to what would become America, it was by mistake. He ‘discovered” a land that was already inhabited and getting along very nicely, thank you very much.
He sailed for a pretty universal reason — fame and fortune. He was promised a share of any riches he discovered. He also got great support from the Catholic Church, which was looking to spread its influence across the world. A devout Catholic himself, he was happy to help grow the church and spread its Word.
Columbus kept a journal of his first voyage, which he gifted to the Queen of Spain upon his return. In it is found his initial impressions of the people he “discovered” already living in the new America.
According to the History Channel, he wrote: “They willingly traded everything they owned … They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features …They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron …They would make fine servants … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
Not an unusual philosophy, given nearly four centuries later those who then ran the new land went about systematically looting and nearly eliminating the descendants of those original inhabitants. Columbus is hardly unique in that sad part of history.
And of course, it was a “different time”, as the old excuse goes. That does have some validity, but when you boil it all down to the simplest form — it was someone searching for a better life for his people at the expense of those who were different and vulnerable. That’s an age-old tale that should surprise no one.
I’m not blaming Columbus, or even holding him responsible in the glare of history. But neither do I believe we should celebrate what he did. Aside from the fact that he failed almost completely in his original mission, he began what ultimately became the conquering of an innocent people.
Don’t get me wrong — I still took today off. But in the true spirit of Columbus, that had nothing to do with celebrating any accomplishment.