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How to Understand the History of Columbus Day

Columbus Day is a U.S. holiday that commemorates the arrival the Italian navigator Christopher Columbus in the Americas on October 12, 1492. Here's how it came to be.


  • Step 1: Recognize that the observance of Columbus Day was later changed from October 12 to the second Monday in October. That's not the day Columbus arrived, but it's close enough for government work.
  • FACT: The Columbus Memorial in Washington, D.C., cost $100,000 when it was dedicated in 1912.
  • Step 2: Understand that President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday in 1942. Roosevelt's decision was made largely in response to lobbying by the Knights of Columbus fraternal organization.
  • Step 3: Be aware that President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation in 1892 urging Americans to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' trip.
  • TIP: Americans of Italian descent later began organizing parades and ceremonies in Columbus' honor.
  • Step 4: Know that Columbus Day was first celebrated in New York in 1792 on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of Columbus' voyage.

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