Columbus Day is a holiday marked on the second Monday of October every year. The day celebrates explorer Christopher Columbus’ landing in the New World on October 12, 1492.
Early that morning, a sailor on board the Pinta spotted land. The following day, 90 crew members of Columbus’ fleet of three ships arrived at the Caribbean island which he named San Salvador. San Salvador Island, also known as Watling Island, is part of the Bahamas.
Columbus’ landing marked the end of a voyage that began around 10 weeks earlier in Palos, Spain and the launch of a new era of European exploration.
While Columbus sparked “the lasting encounter between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere,” he was not the first to successfully cross the Atlantic, a U.S. Embassy website explains.
Viking sailors are believed to have established “a short-lived settlement” in Newfoundland, Canada sometime in the 11th century and scholars have also said there are other possible pre-Columbian landings, the website says.
Columbus Day is usually marked by festive parades in New York City, Denver and other cities across the country. These parades have been held for over 500 years since the three ships first arrived on the Caribbean island.
When Is Columbus Day in 2021?
Columbus Day is observed on October 11 in 2021, which is the second Monday of the month.
Is Columbus Day a Federal Holiday?
Yes, Columbus Day is a federal holiday. This means many government offices, as well banks and some private businesses, are closed on the day. If a federal holiday falls on a weekend, the government may observe it on a different day.
Schools typically stay open on Columbus Day but observances can differ by state, such as in Massachusetts, where schools are closed on the day, while in California, Columbus Day is not recognized as a school holiday.
When Was Columbus Day First Celebrated?
The first recorded celebration of Columbus Day in the U.S. was on October 12, 1792, which was organized by the Society of St. Tammany (also known as the Columbian Order). The day marked the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ landing.
Its 400th anniversary celebration launched the first official Columbus Day holiday in the country, following a proclamation from former President Benjamin Harrison in 1892.
The proclamation recommended “the observance in all their localities of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America…” and described Columbus as “the pioneer of progress and enlightenment,” the U.S. Library of Congress explains.
The World’s Columbian Exposition or Chicago’s World’s Fair, which opened in the summer of 1893, was also aimed at celebrating Columbus’ discovery of the New World 400 years earlier.
In the years that followed, an international Roman Catholic fraternal benefit society known as the Knights of Columbus pushed to have October 12 be declared a federal holiday. Columbus Day has been observed as a federal holiday since 1971.
Scenes from the annual Columbus Day Parade in New York City in 2018.