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How to Observe Columbus Day

How to Observe Christopher Columbus Day

Celebrate the spirit of exploration and discovery.
Columbus Day is observed in America on the second Monday of October.

Contextualization is key when studying holidays, events, or developments.  Studying the context or analyzing the times, cultures, and settings in which people lived is essential to understanding their significance.  We must know the background of Columbus Day and other holidays we observe in our communities to be literate and active citizens.

"This photo shows replicas of the ships Christopher Columbus used to sail to the Americas in 1492.

An interest in discovery and exploration grew in Europe in the 1400s.  Improvements in navigational tools, cartography, and shipbuilding allowed European sailors to go farther than they ever had before.

Why did people set off to explore the world in the fifteenth century?  First, they wanted Asian spices. Italy and Egypt controlled the trade routes to Asia, charging very high prices for spices.  In fact, pepper cost more than gold.  Many countries wanted to find a route to Asia so they could get spices without having to buy from Italian or Egyptian traders.
 Religion gave explorers another reason to set sail.  European Christians wanted to convert more people to their religion to counteract the spread of Islam in Europe, Africa, and Asia.  Simple curiosity was also an important motivation for exploration.  Many people read stories of Marco Polo’s travels and other explorers’ adventures.  They learned about new lands and creatures, and they became curious about the world.
Imagination, daring, and a few mistakes enabled Portuguese and Spanish sailors to discover the Americas.  They thought these lands were a “new world.”

     An Italian sailor thought he could reach Asia by sailing west across the Atlantic.  That sailor, Christopher Columbus, told his idea to the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella.  He promised them great riches, new territory, and Catholic converts.  It took Columbus several years to convince the king and queen, Isabella eventually agreed to pay for his journey.

    In August 1492 Columbus set sail with 88 men and three small ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María.  On October 12, 1492, he and his tired crew landed on a small island in the Bahamas." 

Amerigo Vespucci worked for the Medici family bank, was a cartographer and explorer.  In 1499 he sailed from Spain to become the first European to see Brazil.  North America, Central America, and South America were named after Amerigo.   Christopher Columbus remarked, "It has always been his wish to please me; he is a man of good will; fortune has been unkind to him as to others; his labors have not brought him the rewards he in justice should have."  

"One of the famous lines written by the songwriter Ira Gershwin is 'They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round.' You can call that poetic license for a musical comedy,  it's important to know that that line is a lie, and it's unfortunate that it appears in many school textbooks.  Christopher Columbus and his contemporaries knew very well that the earth was round. Medieval science had been built on the precise studies of Greek scholars, and every educated person of Columbus's time knew that the earth is round.  Not only had the ancient Greeks discovered that the earth is round, the philosopher Eratostenes accurately calculated the earth's circumference in the third century before Christ.  Medieval scholars debated such details as the earth's size and how big are the oceans, no serious scholar believed the earth to be flat.  The great medieval religious scholars, such as the Venerable Bede, Roger Bacon and Thomas Aquinas, added to the Greeks' knowledge with their own calculations."

Columbus Day Resources

The World of Columbus and Sons  

"This is the story of a wonderful, changing, reawakening world the world of the Renaissance and Reformation.  Measured by the lifetime of Columbus and his sons, this book spans the years from 1451-1539.  With Columbus as the central figure of this narrative, readers will also learn the fascinating stories of Prince Henry the Navigator, Ivan III of Russia, Gutenberg, Queen Isabella, Leonardo da Vinci, Mohammed II, the African ruler Nomi Mansa, Martin Luther, Erasmus, Albrecht Dürer, Copernicus, Michaelangelo and many others. Told in Foster's engaging and winsome style enhanced by her helpful chronologies and timelines, readers will learn of the religious, cultural and scientific changes that ushered in a new frontier of exploration and discovery."

One of the largest maritime museums in the world

Were the first Americans European?  

The Christopher Columbus Awards is a national, community-based science, technology, engineering and math program for middle school students.

Columbus quiz

San Francisco's Italian Heritage Parade

The Four Voyages

"No gamble in history has been more momentous than the landfall of Columbus's ship the Santa Maria in the Americas in 1492 - an event that paved the way for the conquest of a 'New World'.  The accounts collected here provide a vivid narrative of his voyages throughout the Caribbean and finally to the mainland of Central America, although he still believed he had reached Asia.  Columbus himself is revealed as a fascinating and contradictory figure, fluctuating from awed enthusiasm to paranoia and eccentric geographical speculation.  Prey to petty quarrels with his officers, his pious desire to bring Christian civilization to 'savages' matched by his rapacity for gold, Columbus was nonetheless an explorer and seaman of staggering vision and achievement."

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