It’s been 530 years since Christopher Columbus, backed by Queen Isabelle I and King Ferdinand II, launched the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria from the coast of Spain.
While he hoped to find a new route to Asia, his 10-week journey instead took him to the Bahamas, making Columbus the first of many Italian explorers to reach what would later become known as the Americas.
To commemorate the voyage the many contributions of Italian Americans to the nation, Congress, by joint resolution in 1934 and modified in 1968 (36 U.S.C. 107), requested that the President proclaim the second Monday of October of each year as “Columbus Day.”
The holiday has been controversial almost since its inception, and a growing number of states and cities have swapped Columbus Day for “Indigenous People’s Day, to acknowledge the painful history and atrocities experienced by Tribal Nations and communities following the arrival of European explorers.
“It is a measure of our greatness as a Nation that we do not seek to bury these shameful episodes of our past — that we face them honestly, we bring them to the light, and we do all we can to address them,” President Joe Biden said in a proclamation on Columbus Day in 2021. “Today, let this day be one of reflection — on America’s spirit of exploration, on the courage and contributions of Italian Americans throughout the generations, on the dignity and resilience of Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities, and on the work that remains ahead of us to fulfill the promise of our Nation for all.”
Columbus Day is designated by the U.S. government as one of 12 federal holidays — along with New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Inauguration Day, George Washington’s birthday, Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day — meaning nonessential employees get the day off.
Most essential employees that are required to work that day receive holiday premium pay.
At least 12 states and many cities have formally designated the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day or Native American Day.