Thinking About Columbus Day

I am well aware of the feelings among many American Indians about Columbus Day. One Lakota woman who worked for me used to ask if she could come in and work on Columbus Day, a federal holiday.

My feeling though is that we can’t have enough holidays and so I choose to think of Columbus Day as the Italian-American holiday. Nothing wrong with that. We have an African-American holiday on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. We have the Irish-American celebration that is St. Patrick’s Day. And Cinco de Mayo is surely the Mexican-American holiday, a much larger celebration here than in most of Mexico.

So, instead of protesting Columbus Day, perhaps American Indians should organize and bring about a holiday of their very own. Given the great diversity among Indian nations (and, lets face it, a proclivity for endless debate), the tribes might never reach agreement, though, so I will suggest a date.

The day before Columbus Day.


Decoration Day

In 1868, Commander in Chief John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic issued General Order Number 11 designating May 30 as a memorial day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

The first national celebration of the holiday took place May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, where both Confederate and Union soldiers were buried. Originally known as Decoration Day, at the turn of the century it was designated as Memorial Day. In many American towns, the day is celebrated with a parade.

In 1971, federal law changed the observance of the holiday to the last Monday in May and extended the honor to all soldiers who died in American wars. A few states continue to celebrate Memorial Day on May 30.

Library of Congress


Today We Celebrate Washington’s Birthday

No matter what the stores call their sales, the federal holiday today — the reason there is no mail delivery — is Washington’s Birthday. There is no such federal holiday as Presidents’ Day.

If there had been a calendar on the wall the day George Washington was born, it would have read February 11, 1731. In 1752 however, Britain and her colonies converted from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, the calendar we use today. The change added 11 days and designated January rather than March as the beginning of the year. Accordingly, Washington’s birthday became February 22, 1732.

A federal holiday was celebrated on February 22 from its approval in 18791 until legislation in 1968 designated the third Monday of February the official day to celebrate Washington’s birthday.

The states are not obliged to adopt federal holidays, which only affect federal offices and agencies. While most states have adopted Washington’s Birthday, a dozen of them officially celebrate Presidents’ Day. A number of the states that celebrate Washington’s Birthday also recognize Lincoln’s Birthday as a separate legal holiday.2

14 weeks until the next holiday.

___________

1 Washington’s Birthday was the fifth federal legal holiday. Only New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day preceded it. There are 10 now, but Labor Day will be eliminated soon.

2 There is no state holiday today in New Mexico. The state chooses to celebrate Presidents’ Day the day after Thanksgiving.


The Day Before

I am well aware of the feelings among many American Indians about Columbus Day. One Lakota woman who worked for me used to ask if she could come in and work on Columbus Day, a federal holiday.

My feeling though is that we can’t have enough holidays and so I choose to think of Columbus Day as the Italian-American holiday. Nothing wrong with that. We have an African-American holiday on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. We have the Irish-American celebration that is St. Patrick’s Day. And Cinco de Mayo is surely the Mexican-American holiday, a much larger celebration here than in most of Mexico.

So, instead of protesting Columbus Day, perhaps American Indians should organize and bring about a holiday of their very own. Given the great diversity among Indian nations (and, lets face it, a proclivity for endless debate), the tribes might never reach agreement, though, so I will suggest a date.

The day before Columbus Day.