Columbus Day v Indigenous People's Day v Leif Erikson Day

I am surprised nobody has said anything about it. Possibly one of the greatest debates of today (literally) is what Americans should be celebrating. Should Americans celebrate Columbus Day, Indigenous People’s Day, Leif Erikson Day, or some combination of the three?

  • Columbus Day is formally a celebration of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492. Because Columbus was from Genoa (although he sailed for Spain), some Italian-Americans choose this day to celebrate their Italian heritage. It has been a federal holiday since 1971, and was previously recognized by annual Presidential proclamations since the 1930s.

  • Indigenous People’s Day is a celebration of Native American peoples and culture, created on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival (1992) as a counter to Columbus Day. On Friday President Biden issued a proclamation recognizing today as Indigenous People’s Day.

  • Leif Erikson Day is a celebration of Nordic culture and heritage, particularly the 11th century explorer Leif Erikson, who led what is thought to be the first Europeans to set foot on North America (specifically, Newfoundland). The date of October 9 coincides with the docking of an unrelated nineteenth century ship full of immigrants from Norway, possibly to compete with the Columbus Day movement. Leif Erikson Day has been celebrated in various localities, and is recognized by annual Presidential proclamations in the U.S.

(Coincidentally, Canada celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October. But Canadian Thanksgiving doesn’t honor any particular person, culture, or ethnic group.)

Some old topics

Columbus Day - 2000, Great Debates

The Vinland Map-Is It a fake? - 2021 bump of 2002 topic, Great Debates

When did Columbus Day turn into Italian-American heritage day? - 2009, General Questions


Seems like we could call it “New World Discovery” day or something like that, and use it as a joint celebration of discovery and memorialization of the costs of that discovery and exploitation, and thereby accommodate those who want to celebrate Columbus, Erikson and indigenous people.

I’m not sure many people care that much (although I’m sure you can find a debate on line at various sites)

Around here (Seattle area) Indigenous People’s day a.k.a. Columbus Day is rather non controversial. Maybe I’m not paying attention.

Columbus Day is a holiday that got its start to placate Italians, who were often discriminated against and violently so, and used as an opportunity to inculcate national values like patriotism into the population. Over the years some groups have viewed the holiday as an opportunity to celebrate Italian heritage and I know there are/were parades, and the holiday was the subject of a memorable episode of The Sopranos, but the closest I’ve ever come to celebrating the day was when we learned about it in grade school. Obviously some people celebrate it, there are parades after all, but does anyone here celebrate it?

It was only “discovered” if you’re looking at it from a Eurocentric point of view; and arguably not then. Large numbers of people living in what’s now called the Americas already knew the place existed. Some Europeans did too.

We could call it “culture collision day”, but that’s a bit of a mouthful.

The phrase, “New World”, is perhaps the most insidious phrase ever invented. It wasn’t a “new world”, the land already belonged to people who were displaced at best and murdered outright at worst. Basically, Europe invaded and conquered much of the rest of the planet.

To answer the question, I go with “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” to honor and remember the hosts of native people that lost their homelands or control of their homelands.

Like anything named after a person, if that person is judged by history to be a shmuck, they you are stuck with honoring a shmuck. When you go to change it (these days) you get accused of cancelling said shmuck. In the case of Columbus, I think it’s a fair cancelling.

However, I do not think making the change should necessarily disparage the contributions of the Italians to this country. Maybe it would have been better to re-name the day after some other Italian contributor (until he turns out to be a shmuck) or just Italian-American Day, and let the Native Americans have their day somewhere else on the calendar?

The Italians have made a HUGE contribution to this country and the whole world.

I bet we could all come together for Marconi day!

Oh shit, he was a fascist. Nevermind.

Did you mean Macaroni Day? I would be OK with that!

I don’t celebrate any of them, they just come and go like any ordinary day. But Macaroni day - I could get involved with that.

Sure let’s do that!

I mean, heck, that even brings in all of the fans of “Yankee Doodle”.

A problem with Italian-American day is that it honors only one immigrant group. Why should Italians have their own day, but not the Chinese, Irish, Polish, Germans, Mexicans, etc? If we’re going to go in that direction, how about Immigrant Day, to honor all groups instead of just one? Or if we want to include Native Americans, how about Heritage Day?

I like the concept of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but I’m not crazy about the name. It sounds too academic. I like Native American Day better, although some people find that term confusing.

All those groups already have some day where that culture is recognized (except for Polish, maybe). If any group wants to create a day where they are recognized, they can have at it - the more celebrations, the better, IMHO.

I was thinking about this yesterday. We should observe this day–not sure what to name the day-- but as a national day of mourning. The day is symbolic (even if not the chronological beginning) of the push to obliterate the indigenous people living in North America and then lie to ourselves about it (cf. Manifest Destiny).

None of these days is a national holiday. If we changed Columbus Day to Italian-American Heritage Day, the federal government would be honoring one ethnic group to the exclusion of others. If we gave every immigrant group its own federal holiday, we’d have so many holidays that the post office wouldn’t be able to deliver the mail. We’d also have endless arguments over which groups deserve the honor of their own holiday. Better to lump them all together, I think.

Yeah, I can see your point. Columbus Day is already a federal holiday tho, I think. MLK is honored in most areas of the country as well. We are already there in terms of who gets a “day”. I am not saying they all should be federal holidays, but if someone thinks their group ought to be honored on such-and-such a day, and it raises awareness of that group’s contributions or issues or what have you, then more power to them.

In Boston, the two biggest ethnic groups were Italians and Irish. The Italians had Columbus Day to celebrate their heritage. The Irish wanted St Patrick’s Day, but the legislature couldn’t be that blatant about it, so they looked back through the history of Boston for something that happened on March 17th. And that’s how Evacuation Day (Massachusetts) - Wikipedia came to be celebrated in Boston and a few surrounding towns.

That’s October 28, the anniversary of the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty.

There is also an Irish-American Heritage Month (March), Asian Pacific American Heritage month (May), Jewish American Heritage Month (also May), Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month (October to coincide with Columbus Day), Native American Indian Heritage Month (November), &etc.

All recognized by the federal government.


Growing up in Puerto Rico in the 60s and 70s, the generally used name for it was Discovery Day (actually, we had two of those: one on 12 October [1492] for Discovery of America —the generic hemispheric meaning of “America” used in Spanish— and another on 19 November [1493] for Discovery of Puerto Rico.). To this day these are still the most common references.

The designation as “Columbus” Day never really caught on in PR except when discussing the federal holiday. The widely use pan-Hispanist designation “Día de la Raza” (created in the early 20th Century) was more frequently used especially in media and education but again not as much as “Discovery Day”.

Still in any case even when celebrating “la Raza”, for most of that time it tended to have, to no one’s surprise I expect, a focus on the Spanishness/Christianness of the whole thing. This of course got pretty awkward as time went and a number of Latin American countries have further renamed it as Encounter Day, Indigenous People’s Day, Resistance Day, etc. and not all consider it an official holiday.

(The 19th November in the decades after the quincentennial has been added the appellation “Día de la Puertorriqueñidad”, that is, Day of Puerto Rican Identity, as the way to reframe it away from the “discovery” event into the more general “here’s where we begin evolving into what we are now”. )

But really, the question in the US would be, is this a holiday specifically to celebrate the Man Christopher Columbus, or to commemorate the insertion of the American Continents into the realm of recorded “Western History”, with all that it entailed?

Not with an official day off from work.