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Columbus Day History and Facts for Kids


Many countries in the New World and elsewhere celebrate the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, which occurred on October 12, 1492, as an official holiday. Columbus Day first became an official state holiday in Colorado in 1906, and became a federal holiday in the United States in 1937, though people have celebrated Columbus’ voyage since the colonial period.

  • These patriotic rituals were framed around themes such as support for war, citizenship boundaries, the importance of loyalty to the nation, and celebrating social progress.
  • The predominately-Irish immigrants who organized themselves as the Knights of Columbus, chose that name in part because it saw Christopher Columbus as a fitting symbol of Catholic immigrants’ right to citizenship: one of their own, a fellow Catholic, had discovered America.
  • Many Italian-Americans observe Columbus Day as a celebration of their heritage, the first occasion being in New York City on October 12, 1866.
  • Columbus Day was first enshrined as a legal holiday in the United States through the lobbying of Angelo Noce, a first generation Italian, in Denver.
  • In April 1934, as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made October 12 a federal holiday under the name Columbus Day.
  • Most states celebrate Columbus Day as an official state holiday, though many mark it as a “Day of Observance” or “Recognition” and three do not recognize it at all.
  • San Francisco claims the nation’s oldest continuously existing celebration with the Italian-American community’s annual Columbus Day Parade, which was established by Nicola Larco in 1868, while New York City boasts the largest.
  • Hawaii celebrates Discoverers’ Day, which commemorates the Polynesian discoverers of Hawaii on the same date, the second Monday of October, though the name change has not ended protest related to the observance of Columbus’ discovery.
  • The state government does not treat either Columbus Day or Discoverers’ Day as a legal holiday; state, city and county government offices and schools are open for business.
  • South Dakota celebrates the day as an official state holiday known as “Native American Day” rather than Columbus Day.
  • The city of Berkeley, California has replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day since 1992, a move which has been replicated by several other localities.
  • The date Columbus arrived in the Americas is celebrated in many countries in Latin America.
  • The most common name for the celebration in Spanish (including in some Latin American communities in the United States) is the Día de la Raza (“day of the race” or “day of the [hispanic] people”), commemorating the first encounters of Europeans and Native Americans.
  • The day was also celebrated under this title in Spain until 1957, when it was changed to the Día de la Hispanidad (“Hispanity Day”), and in Venezuela until 2002, when it was changed to the Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance).
  • Originally conceived of as a celebration of Hispanic influence in the Americas, as evidenced by the complementary celebrations in Spain and Latin America, Día de la Raza has come to be seen by some in Latin America as a counter to Columbus Day; a celebration of the resistance against the arrival of Europeans to the Americas and of the native races and cultures.
  • Spain’s “national day” had moved around several times during the various regime changes of the 20th century; establishing it on the day of the international Columbus celebration was part of a compromise between conservatives, who wanted to emphasize the status of the monarchy and Spain’s history, and Republicans, who wanted to commemorate Spain’s burgeoning democracy with an official holiday.
  • Opposition to Columbus Day dates to at least the 19th century where activists had sought to eradicate Columbus Day celebrations because of its association with immigrants and the Knights of Columbus.
  • Some, such as the American Indian Movement, have argued that the responsibility of contemporary governments and their citizens for allegedly ongoing acts of genocide against Native Americans are masked by positive Columbus myths and celebrations.