Although people throughout North, South and Central America have celebrated the 1492 voyage of Christopher Columbus for centuries, Columbus Day became an American national holiday only in 1934. Once celebrated on October 12, the holiday now takes place the second Monday of October, creating a three-day weekend for Americans. Most government offices and banks close this day, while many businesses remain open. Retail stores conduct Columbus Day sales.
Although Christopher Columbus conducted his voyages of discovery for the Kingdom of Spain, he was of Italian birth. Italian-Americans have considered Columbus Day their own day since the nineteenth century. Columbus Day parades with Italian themes take place in a number of American cities, notably the annual parade in New York City, which has a large Italian-American population.
Columbus Day generates a number of controversies. For Native-Americans, the day commemorates the beginning of the subjugation of many native peoples, and the outright genocide of others. Historians, on the other hand, never fail to point out that Norse settlers “discovered” North America in the eleventh century. Others believe that Basque and Gascon fishing boats landed on American shores before Columbus, and even that Chinese ships visited what is now the U.S. west coast. It is clear, however, that for good or ill, the voyages of Columbus brought on the first large-scale European settlement of the Americas.
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