Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when the rising generation is taught the truth about heroes and traditions. Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas is one area where the “facts” seem to keep changing, and children of all ages have a difficult time discerning the truth about why we celebrate Columbus Day.
Professor William J. Connell stated that we celebrate Columbus Day on October 12 because it is the day Columbus discovered America. We are not celebrating the man; therefore, we do not remember the day of his birth or the day of his death. We celebrate the event: On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas! This is a worthy event to celebrate in and of itself.
According to Professor Connell, there were other reasons to make Columbus Day a national holiday. “When thinking about the Columbus Day holiday it helps to remember the good intentions of the people who put together the first parade in New York. Columbus Day was first proclaimed a national holiday by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892, 400 years after Columbus’s first voyage. The idea, lost on present-day critics of the holiday, was that this would be a national holiday that would be special for recognizing both Native Americans, who were here before Columbus, and the many immigrants – including Italians – who were just then coming to this country in astounding numbers. It was to be a national holiday that was not about the Founding Fathers or the Civil War, but about the rest of American history. Like the Columbian Exposition dedicated in Chicago that year and opened in 1893, it was to be about our land and all its people. Harrison especially designated the schools as centers of the Columbus celebration because universal public schooling, which had only recently taken hold, was seen as essential to a democracy that was seriously aiming to include everyone and not just preserve a governing elite….
“So Columbus Day is for all Americans. It marks the first encounter that brought together the original Americans and the future ones. A lot of suffering followed, and a lot of achievement too….
“The holiday marks the event, not the person. What Columbus gets criticized for nowadays are attitudes that were typical of the European sailing captains and merchants who plied the Mediterranean and the Atlantic in the 15th century. Within that group he was unquestionably a man of daring and unusual ambition. But what really mattered was his landing on San Salvador, which was a momentous, world-changing occasion such as has rarely happened in human history. Sounds to me like a pretty good excuse for taking a day off from work.”
As a small child I learned, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” I later learned that Nephi, an early American prophet, saw Columbus in vision approximately 600 years before the birth of Jesus Christ and wrote the following: “And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.
“And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters” (Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 1 Nephi 13:12-13).
I do not personally know what kind of man Columbus was. He may have been more a sinner than a saint as far as I know. The above quoted scripture tells me that Columbus was an instrument in the hands of the Lord in discovering the American Continents. Nephi called the Americas “the promised land” because it was preserved by the hand of the Lord. Many other people followed Columbus across the Atlantic Ocean, and the result of their time, talents, and work is the United States of America and the freedoms enjoyed by Americans. It was the discovery of this land – followed by the independence from Great Britain and other foreign nations and the writing of the Constitution - that prepared this promised land for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For these reasons especially, I believe we should remember and celebrate the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.