Why is Columbus Day celebrated?

why is Columbus Day celebrated?

Darla Hueske/ via Flickr

Every year when Columbus Day rolls around, many questions come up about Christopher Columbus and his travels: Who is Christopher Columbus? Why does he have his own holiday? Should we celebrate Columbus Day knowing the history associated with him?

Many school curriculums in the United States still cover Columbus’ explorations although he never set foot on mainland North America nor was he the first European to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Some teachers are rethinking how they teach their students about Columbus, especially when Columbus Day nears on their calendars.

Columbus Day is still a federal holiday in the United States, but several states have taken steps to declare the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This day, dedicated to celebrating Native American peoples, acknowledges not only the hardships experienced by Native Americans but their impact and achievements as well.

The United States is not the only country debating the legacy of Christopher Columbus. Many countries have renamed the holiday to something that means more to their peoples’ cultures and histories. Since EF’s mission is opening the world through education (which we work to fulfill through cultural exchange, language learning, academic and educational travel programs), we know how important it is to understand different cultures in order to be better global citizens.

Let’s dive into how other countries around the world have reimagined Columbus Day:

How other countries celebrate Columbus Day

Many Latin American countries do not have Columbus Day but instead celebrate Día de la Raza or Day of the Race. In 1916, Argentina declared Dia de la Raza a national holiday, but by 2010, the holiday had been renamed to Day of Respect of Cultural Diversity. The day focuses less on Columbus and European colonization and more on the diversity of the Argentinian people.

Those who live in Belize observe Pan-American Day in place of Columbus Day. This day remembers the migration of the Mestizos and the Yucatan Maya into Belize, which brought new rich diversity the country is known for today.

Costa Rica
Since 1994, Costa Rica has celebrated Día del Encuentro de las Culturas or Day of the Encounter of Cultures. On this day, Costa Ricans honor the diversity of their citizens as well as the sacrifices and accomplishments of indigenous peoples in Costa Rica.

Instead of commemorating Christopher Columbus, the people of Peru celebrate Día de los pueblos originarios y el diálogo intercultural or Indigenous Peoples and Intercultural Dialogue Day. On this day, indigenous art and music is the central focus for many celebratory events in major cities like Cusco and Lima.

Want to help your students learn more about these countries and other areas of Latin America? Browse our Latin American educational tours.


Editor’s note (2020): This piece has been updated for clarity, accuracy, and relevance.

Topics: Culture, Holidays

Lauren Vinciguerra

Lauren is a Web Content Editor at EF. She dreams of going to Japan one day and eating her weight in sushi.

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