Wry & Dry

Columbus Day miscellany

It's been a sort of slow-news-week at W&D.  What with Monday being Columbus Day and all that.

Columbus what?  Yes, the United States celebrates a Columbus Day, on the second Monday in October.  You know, when Columbus discovered America and proved the earth was round.

Hold the phone...

1.  Columbus didn't discover America.  In 1492 he discovered some islands in the Caribbean.  He didn't set foot on North America.  North America was inhabited by aborigines, who had been there for thousands of years, either being what are now called Indians or what are now called Mexicans.  And even thinking of the earliest European to set foot on north America, that honour goes to Norse explorer Leif Erikson, who in about 1003 landed in what is now Newfoundland.  The first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States was by the Spanish at St Augustine in Florida in 1565.  And thus is well ahead of the more romanticised Jamestown in 1607 or Plymouth (and the Mayflower and Thanksgiving stories) in 1620.

2.  Columbus probably knew the earth was round, not flat.  His issue was the size of the earth, hence thinking he had landed in what is now the East Indies.

So why the holiday?  Well, Columbus was probably an Italian.  In 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress, bowing to lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, an influential Catholic group that wanted a Catholic hero to be honored, proclaimed 12th October to be Columbus Day, a national holiday. In 1971, Congress changed the date to the second Monday in October.  And all the while knowing that Columbus didn't come anywhere near what is now the USA.

Almost as absurd has having a holiday the day before a sporting final.

[1]  Chutzpah: is the quality of audacity.  The Yiddish word derives from the Hebrew meaning 'insolence', 'cheek' or 'audacity'.