Today is the day that has been pre-marked on your calendar as “Columbus Day.” It’s a federal holiday, so federal offices and courthouses will be closed. But here in Columbus, Ohio — named for the explorer who discovered the New World, where a huge statue of Columbus is found outside City Hall — city offices will be open, and the rest of us will head into work like it’s any other workday.
Columbus city government offices traditionally closed for Columbus Day, but this year the city decided to change its approach to the holiday. Last week the city issued a short release saying that its offices would be open today, and the offices would close, instead, when Veterans Day is celebrated next month.
By taking that action, Columbus joins a growing number of American cities and states that don’t officially celebrate Columbus Day. Many cities and states don’t recognize the federal holiday because of Christopher Columbus’ brutal and horrific treatment of the natives he found when he reached the New World, and instead celebrate Indigenous People’s Day or Native American Day. The City of Columbus says its decision wasn’t taken for that reason, but rather because the city just wanted to recognize and honor veterans.
Notwithstanding the City’s press release, I suspect that the changing view of Columbus and what he did played at least some role in the decision to take a new approach to the holiday. I’ve got no problem with revisiting the approach to Columbus Day — which never has been really widely accepted as a holiday in many workplaces, including mine — just as I have no problem with the decisions in many towns and cities to remove Confederate statuary. Columbus was initially seen as a heroic explorer who rejected the flat-earth theory and braved the unknown to discover America. Now we take a more complete and rounded view of his record, and recognize that he knowingly committed terrible atrocities and killed and enslaved the gentle natives he found on his voyages. A Google search on the subject will find lots of articles like this one, entitled “Top 5 Atrocities committed by Christopher Columbus.”
So why in the world should we celebrate this awful person who has his own “Top 5 Atrocities” list by giving people a day off, just because that was done in the past? We can recognize Columbus as the historical figure who apparently reached the New World first, while also acknowledging that his treatment of the indigenous people was unconscionable — and that Columbus, the man, just isn’t worthy of a holiday. As for celebrating heroes, I agree with the Columbus city government — let’s celebrate our veterans instead.