No Columbus Day In Columbus

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.

150px-columbus-ohio-christopher-columbus-statue-2006-tightColumbus 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.

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Another Reason Not To Celebrate Columbus Day

Columbus Day is one of those “holidays” that really isn’t a holiday in any meaningful sense of the word.  Sure, federal workers and state workers get the day off — they get every holiday off, without fail — and so do bank employees.  For the rest of us working stiffs, however, Columbus Day is just another day to slog into the office and briefly wonder why that the flow of rush hour traffic is lighter than on the average work day.

And these days many people don’t care much for Christopher Columbus, either.  Admiral of the Ocean Sea, persuader of Ferdinand and Isabella, intrepid explorer — forget all that stuff we learned in grade school!  Now we hear that Columbus brought disease and slavery to the New World and is viewed as standing for colonialism, cultural insensitivity, and a Eurocentric vision of the world.  That’s why some people insist, instead, on celebrating Indigenous People’s Day.

Poor old Chris and his lame holiday are taking a beating from every quarter — which is why I got a chuckle out of the story sent along by the Friendly Doc Next Door, about an Ann Arbor, Michigan bank that announced that it wasn’t celebrating Columbus Day because Columbus, after all, is a city in Ohio.  Why not?  College football’s greatest rivalry is as good a reason as any to not recognize a federal holiday that is a “holiday” in name only.  When Arbor Day rolls around, we here in Ohio will retaliate by not celebrating it, either.

Tipping A Glass To Our Unknown Irish Ancestors

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a day when everyone is Irish, or at least claims to be.

The Webners are no different. Richard recently took one of those mail-in DNA tests, and the results showed a significant percentage of Scotch-Irish DNA. I get the Scottish part; our extended family tree includes Neals, McCollums, and Fergusons. My grandmother, born a Brown, claimed Irish ancestry, and I’ve no doubt that there are other, now-unknown branches that undoubtedly touched the Emerald Isle. It’s enough, at least, to allow us to celebrate March 17 with a heartfelt Erin go Bragh.

I’m proud of whatever Irish ancestry we have. In my view, you have to give the Irish credit — of all of the countries that have contributed to our melting pot nation, the Irish have the best traditional holiday, by far. St. Patrick’s Day blows Columbus Day and Cinco de Mayo out of the water, and most other countries aren’t even in the running. There’s no Deutschland Day, or British Bash. And no other country has the branding of Ireland, either. Whether it’s leprechauns, shillelaghs, four-leaf clovers, or pots of gold at the end of the rainbow, the Irish stand alone at the top of the heap.

It’s also admirable that the Irish made drinking beer an essential part of St. Patrick’s Day. Sure, we know St. Patrick had something to do with chasing snakes off the island, but most people associate the holiday with beer. Beer drinking also is an essential part of the culture of the Germans, the Brits, the Belgians, and even the French, but the Irish have co-opted it completely. Years ago, some savvy Irishman obviously understood that focusing a holiday on beer-drinking is bound to increase the amount of participation.

St. Patrick’s Day is an easy day to celebrate: you wear something green and drink beer. You don’t have to go to church, and there’s no significant physical danger involved, such as you might find in running with the bulls in Pamplona. Instead, there’s just an opportunity to bend an elbow with your friends, quaff a few dozen ales, and pretend you like droning Celtic music. The only risk is being punched in the face by some drunken, red-faced IRA member, getting a wet kiss from a beefy red-headed woman wearing a “kiss me, I’m Irish” pin, or ending up face down in a vomit-filled gutter.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Our Forgotten Federal Holiday

Tonight I was walking to my car after work when I passed an obviously puzzled woman.  She asked me if I could help her, because she had put $1.50 into a parking meter but no time had registered.  I looked at the meter and pointed out that the parking was free on federal holidays.  She looked mystified until I mentioned that today is Columbus Day.  And this is in Columbus, Ohio, mind you.

Columbus Day is the forgotten holiday.  Only government workers and bank employees pay attention to it, because they get the day off.  For everyone else, it’s a work day — but a weird, Twilight Zone-type work day where everything is a bit strange, from the lack of morning traffic to free parking.  It’s a holiday that doesn’t seem to be celebrated in most places.

Why is this so?  Columbus used to be viewed as a crucial figure in the history of America.  He was credited with discovering the continent and was seen as a figure of enlightenment, a force for science and reason in an age of flat-earthers who didn’t want to sail off the map because “here there be dragons.”  In those days, every school student learned about Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492.

But then Columbus’ reputation changed, as people focused on his brutal treatment of the natives he encountered in the New World.  And the notion that Columbus proved the world was round has been discredited.  A posting today in the Washington Post blog is a good indication of the greatly diminished, modern view of Columbus.  And now people are questioning whether Columbus was the first traveler to find the New World, and whether Norsemen or even Chinese explorers beat him to it.

That’s why Columbus Day is a holiday that really doesn’t feel like a holiday.  It’s almost as if people are mildly embarrassed by it.