Monday (October 8) about half of the United States and all of Canada enjoyed a legal day off. In Canada the holiday was Thanksgiving Day. In the United States it was…a little more complicated.
According to the U.S. federal government and just half of all U.S. state governments, October 8 (the second Monday in October) is a legal holiday called Columbus Day—named in honour of European explorer Christopher Columbus making landfall in the Americas on October 12, 1492.
In addition to the half of all states that do not observe Columbus Day, as of 2018, some 87 general purpose local governments (townships, municipalities and counties) across the U.S., along with five states, have opted not to celebrate the original agent of the European conquest of the Americas.
All have renamed Columbus Day in order to shift the focus and honour the Indigenous Americans who were already here in 1492 when the Italian-born Columbus blundered upon what he thought was India.
The first place in the U.S. to make such a change was the state of Hawaii. In 1971 the Aloha State renamed Columbus Day as Discoverers’ Day, in recognition of the Polynesian discoverers of the Hawaiian Islands. In 1988 the day was downgraded from a state holiday to make room for Martin Luther King Day.
Next, in 1989, the state of South Dakota renamed Columbus Day as Native American Day. Three other states: California (since 1968), Tennessee (since 1994) and Nevada (1997) also celebrate Native American Day, but on the fourth Friday in September. In 2018, Arizona established June 2nd as Native American Day.
And, beginning in 1992 with the city of Berkeley, California, some 87 U.S. counties and municipalities, plus three states, have renamed Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Steering by a better moral compass after 600 years?
For the sake of convenience I have put all the U.S. localities that have renamed Columbus Day on a custom Google Map.
I’ve layered the map by year, making it easy to see the big spike in 2016 and 2017, when over 58 percent (54) of all changes to the local name of the Columbus Day holiday took place. You can also see at a glance, the geographical extent of the name change across the United States.
At last count there were over 39,000 general purpose local governments in the United States (including townships, municipalities and counties). So, judging solely by the relatively small number of city councils, county seats and state legislatures that have changed the name, Columbus Day is still the dominant U.S. state and federal holiday on the second Monday in October.
It may be a different story population-wise. I haven’t taken the time to do the calculations but the Columbus Day name change clearly appears to have a high correspondence to urban areas and population density—with 15 cities along the West Coast (including all of Los Angeles County) and a dense concentration of cities along the East Coast, including Boston (but not including New York City).
To the casual eye, there likewise appears to be a correspondence between especially large Hispanic and Latino populations and not observing Columbus Day at both the state and local level.
Columbus Day is not a state holiday in Florida, for example, where Hispanics and Latinos make up over 23 percent of the population (compared to 17 percent of the U.S. population). However, Día de la Raza (“day of the race”, or “day of the [Hispanic] people”) is widely observed in Florida on October 12th and may even be treated like an informal state holiday.
Certainly no Latin/Hispanic country of the Americas, south of the United States, celebrates the arrival of Columbus by name.
Mexico, Argentina, and Columbia (the only country in Latin America named after Columbus) all mark October 12th as Día de la Raza. So did Venezuela until 2003, when it changed the name to Día de la Resistencia Indígena (“Day of Indigenous Resistance”). In 1994, Costa Rica changed its Día de la Raza to Día del Encuentro de las Culturas (“Day of the Encounter of Cultures”).
Brazil prefers to celebrate the date of it own discovery—O Descobrimento do Brasil (“The Discovery of Brazil”)—by Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral on April 22, 1500.
Even Spain—Columbus’s employer when he hit the Americas over 600 years ago—marks the navigator’s arrival in the Americas without naming him—observing the day as Fiesta Nacional (“National Day”).
Outside of the United States, only Italy appears to celebrate an explicit Columbus Day on October 12, namely Giornata nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo (“National Day of Christopher Columbus”).
However, I cannot tell whether this is a real “bank holiday” or not. It is listed alongside the National day for the removal of architectural barriers (first Sunday in October),
Meanwhile, getting back to the United States. Instead of changing the name of Columbus Day (or its own name, for that matter), the city of Columbus, Ohio, chose—for the first time ever—to simply ignore the controversial holiday.
According to a media advisory, Columbus planned to be open as usual for city business on October 8 and will instead be closed on Monday, November 12, for Veteran’s Day.
There is also no discernible move, so far as I can tell, to efface any of the other notable Christopher Columbus namesakes, such as the Knights of Columbus, the District of Columbia, or (it has to be said), my home: the Canadian province of British Columbia.