Columbus Day falls off national holiday map

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 10, 2011 - 7:08 AM
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A pigeon sat on a statue of Christopher Columbus.

Photo: Susan Walsh, Associated Press - Ap

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In the early 1960s, Minnesota Rep. John Blatnik lobbied for a new national holiday, Leif Erikson Day. The farthest he got was an annual presidential proclamation to commemorate the Norwegian explorer's accomplishments on Oct. 9, but Erikson's supporters might be getting the last laugh.

Columbus Day -- originally Oct. 12 but now the second Monday in October -- has become largely ignored.

Offices, stores, schools and most banks will be open. It will be business as usual at St. Paul City Hall and in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. Minneapolis, an apparent holdout, will close its city offices.

But while Scandinavians take credit for undermining Columbus' celebrity status with their insistence that Erikson was the first European to reach North America, there's more to the holiday's falling profile.

Increasing numbers of people consider paying homage to Columbus an insult to the nation's indigenous populations. Some critics argue that he set in motion the eventual exploitation of the natives by white settlers. In 1992, instead of celebrating the 500th anniversary of Columbus sailing the oceans blue, the National Council of Churches issued a statement saying that the holiday should not be celebrated. "What represented newness of freedom, hope and opportunity for some was the occasion for oppression, degradation and genocide for others," they said.

They weren't the first to suggest a Columbus boycott. In 1988, Hawaii changed the name to Discoverers' Day, and two years later South Dakota replaced it with Native American Day. Since then, Virginia has overlaid it with Yorktown Victory Day in honor of a Revolutionary War battle, and California, Texas and Florida have passed laws removing Columbus Day from the list of state-approved holidays.

Timing works against the holiday ever achieving its previous status. If it were moved to, say, the first Sunday in February and renamed Columbus Super Bowl Day, people might stop and take notice.

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