Our View: Is it time to give up on Columbus Day as a holiday? (editorial)
For those who may have missed it — and most of us did, since we had to work — Monday, Oct. 8, was Columbus Day, which celebrates Christopher Columbus’ 1492 arrival on this continent.
That arrival — a “discovery,” if you were in Europe — changed the world, especially in Europe. It also, ultimately, changed the world for the people who were already here.
Somebody from Europe would have eventually “found” the Americas. In fact, the Vikings were the first Europeans to attempt to colonize North America, but it didn’t work out and they didn’t tell anyone. So Columbus made the first publicized landing in this hemisphere, kicking off an era of exploration and colonization that ultimately resulted in the creation of an independent United States and the rest of the countries in this hemisphere.
But that era of exploration was bad news for the people already on these continents. Because of that sordid history, Columbus Day in recent years has fallen into disrepute. Statues of Columbus have either been removed or are being considered for removal, part of the drive to eliminate history that doesn’t comport with current politically correct norms. A number of cities and academic institutions have replaced Columbus Day with “Indigenous People’s Day.”
Starting in the 1990s, Eagle County for a number of years called the October holiday “Discovery Day,” in order to both observe the holiday — a paid day off for county employees — and distance the organization from celebrating Columbus.
Columbus’ memory is complicated. The story isn’t as glorious as was once painted in school history books. But neither is the story as awful as presented by those who view Columbus as the destroyer of this hemisphere.
The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between glory and villainy.
On the other hand, it may be time to reconsider having a holiday at all in Columbus’ honor. Congress didn’t create the holiday until the 1930s, after all. And, given the current trend of replacing Columbus the hero with Columbus the villain, there doesn’t seem to be much point in having a holiday.
Still, given the paucity of history education today’s kids receive, maybe we should look at presenting a more balanced view of Columbus. That view would acknowledge the good the Italian explorer unleashed — Columbus’ adventures ultimately led millions of people in Europe to seek adventures of their own in the New World — while also working to create an understanding of the atrocities endured by this hemisphere’s native populations.
It might be too much to hope for to ask for a little nuance in an age when far too many issues break down to either/or propositions, but there’s a lot to understand about Columbus and his legacy, a lot more than can be covered in a divisive Monday holiday when most of us have to work anyway.
The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Krista Driscoll, Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart and Business Editor Scott Miller.