Columbus Day

Related Information
Letter from Columbus to the King and Queen
Myths about Columbus Dispelled
Map of the Four Expeditions


Columbus Day is celebrated every year on the second Monday of October in the United States. This commemorates Columbus’s journey to North America, as he touched on land on October 12, 1492. It is mostly celebrated with a day off from school or work, which is used for recreational activities such as trips to parks or relaxing.

The day is also seen as an anniversary of the United States. Churches may hold special services, communities sometimes hold parades, and institutions such as schools and libraries will hold educational events. It is a popular day for picnics and barbeques. Most larger celebrations are held within the Italian-American community since Christopher Columbus was Italian, however these can sometimes focus on Italian heritage rather than Columbus’s influence.

Not all states celebrate Columbus Day—Nevada and California do not celebrate and Hawaiians call it either Discoverer’s Day or Landing Day. Some celebrate with a celebration of indigenous people instead, such as Berkley, California’s Indigenous People’s Day and Native Americans’ Day in South Dakota.

There is a controversy regarding the holiday due to the onset of violence between these early European settlers and Native Americans. Also, Columbus is widely believed to have actually not been the first European to find North America. Leif Erikson and other Norse explorers had made excursions to the continent from Iceland centuries before. While he is often portrayed as the first to discover the New World, many will point out that the Native Americans had found the land well before and had been cultivating and developing civilizations there since.

Large celebrations take place in San Francisco and New York. San Francisco’s celebration boasts being the oldest one, celebrating with a Columbus Day Parade since 1868. New York’s claims to be the largest parade, with over 35,000 participants and almost one million observers.


Columbus was born in northern Italy in October of 1451. He spent much of his childhood helping his mother run her cheese stand. In his writings, Columbus claims to have taken his first voyage when he was ten years old. Before becoming an explorer, he traded throughout the West African coast.

During the 1480s, Columbus started preparing a plan to reach Asia through the Atlantic Ocean, not knowing that North America lay in his path. After making proposals to the king of Portugal twice, which were rejected, he approached leaders in Genoa and Venice before finding support from Ferdinand II and Isabella I, the monarchs of Spain.

Columbus set sail with 90 men and three ships the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria in 1492. Due to his navigational miscalculations, he landed in the West Indies, calling the natives there Indians due to thinking he had reached India. This is not, however, because he believed the earth was round. Most people at the time, especially sailors who regularly navigated the seas, did not believe this.

The Santa Maria sank on Christmas Day that same year, preceding Columbus’s return to Spain. Columbus’s second voyage consisted of 17 ships as he set off to help settle Hispaniola. He went on to make four voyages from Spain to the Americas from 1492 to 1503, beginning the colonization of the Americas. >

The first Columbus Day celebration took place in 1792, when the Columbian Order in New York City held a ceremony for the voyage’s 300th anniversary. The next was in 1866 by Italian-Americans. In 1905, Colorado was the first state to declare the holiday, starting the annual tradition. It was declared a national holiday in 1971 by congress.