October 12th – Discovery Day!

What a lame holiday.

October 12, 2009 is Columbus Day. For those of you who may not be familiar with this holiday, the second Monday in October each year marks the day much of North America celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas (or the Caribbean if you want to get specific). Columbus’ four voyages led to the general awareness of the Americas throughout Europe. As a side note, his discovery also led directly to the death of millions of Native Americans, the extinction of entire peoples (Taino) and the founding of slavery in the Americas. But I’m not here to put Columbus on trial, I’m here to ponder whether or not the man’s achievements warrant his own happy little holiday or if this day could be meant for so much more.

This article caught my attention:

Is Columbus Day Sailing Off the Calendar?

The tradition of honoring Christopher Columbus for sailing the ocean blue in 1492 is facing rougher seas than the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria.

Philadelphia’s annual Columbus Day parade has been canceled. Brown University this year renamed the holiday “Fall Weekend” following a campaign by a Native American student group opposed to celebrating an explorer who helped enslave some of the people he “discovered.”

Already 22 states don’t give their employees the day off, according to the Council of State Governments. And in other places, Columbus Day is under attack. “We’re going after state governments to drop this holiday for whatever reason they come up with,” said Mike Graham, founder of United Native America, a group fighting for a federal holiday honoring Native Americans.

His group’s agenda: Rename Columbus Day “Italian Heritage Day” and put it somewhere else on the calendar, then claim the second Monday in October as “Native American Day.” South Dakota already calls it that.

Other organizations want to rename the day “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” as several California cities, including Berkeley, have done.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day? What an excellent idea! Let’s give credit to the Paleo-indians who actually did discover the Americas a staggering 20,000 years before Columbus. Their discovery alone is enough to close the book on the celebration of Columbus Day. But this is America and, as much as I hate to admit it, if there is one thing American’s hate more than changing their beloved ways of thinking, its relinquishing anything to native peoples.

I feel the solution to this problem is finding the happy medium or what amounts to a re-branding of Columbus Day.

I like Discovery Day. That’s how the people of The Bahamas commemorate October 12. Discovery Day detaches itself from the accomplishments of just one man and opens the door to celebrating so much more. Honestly, what Columbus did pales in comparison to some of the other exciting discoveries made throughout human history. Sticking with the realm of land exploration for just a bit longer, consider Leif Erikson who is currently regarded as the first European to arrive in the America’s (what now Columbus?).  Sure he has his own holiday, but how many American’s actually know when it is? I’ll save you the trouble of looking, it’s October 9th. What of Jacques Cartier and his explorations of the St. Lawrence River or Abel Janszoon Tasman’s exploration of Australia in 1642? Take a step away from earthbound discoveries and consider the work of Galileo. Consider all of the discoveries in astronomy, the hundreds of thousands of galaxies discovered by the Hubble Space telescope in the past 19 years. Hell, there aren’t enough days in the year to commemorate what has been discovered since NASA was established in 1958. Think of the countless discoveries in chemistry, earth science, mathematics, genetics, medicine, physics, and biology. Think of archaeology. Think of evolution! Think of all of these wonderful fields of study, of the countless individuals whose hard work and dedication have made our current way of life possible, and understand the need to commemorate it all.

Happy Discovery Day.


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