Monday, October 12, 2009

Today

Today, October 12, is Columbus Day. Not Amerigo Vespucci Day. Not Leif Ericson Day. Columbus Day.

It really is Columbus Day. Chris and his fleet landed at a place he named San Salvador on October 12, 1492. Of course, that was according to the Julian Calendar. In 1582, a papal bull (and what an image that conjures in the brain) restructured the concept of the leap year and named the new calendar after the Pope himself. Suddenly, La Nina and La Pinta and La Santa Maria had landed 9 days later, on October 21st, Gregorian time. Adding 3 days every 4 centuries doesn't seem like a big difference, but try telling that to Columbus. Someone must have agreed with me on this, since we celebrate his arrival on the Julian date. I love it when things that shouldn't change don't change.

And that's why I'm smiling about today being Columbus Day. Because, in actuality, Columbus Day is now celebrated on the 2nd Monday of October, regardless of the date. That's just wrong. Totally and completetly unacceptable. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th, George Washington was born on February 22nd. Neither of them was born on the 3rd Monday in February... or at least not every year on the 3rd Monday in February. Holiday-declarers need to get with the program. Certain things should not be messed with.

But today is October 12th. And it's Columbus Day. And all is right with the world.

I've always like Columbus Day, because it's not a birthday party. It's the celebration of an event. Being born isn't anything to congratulate the infant about. If we had pictures of Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Washington there would be reason to say "Nicely Done, Ma'am". The babies really didn't do much at all. Columbus, on the other hand, sailed across the flat world to find a faster route to India's spices. Though his math was a little shaky, and he really wasn't in India at all, he found the Bahama (which had been doing very nicely without him except for just a little bit of internecine warfare) and laid the groundwork for the casinos at Atlantis.

No one expects you to be at her house for dinner on Columbus Day. You don't have to eat special foods or dress in any particular color. You might not have to work (it's a Federal Holiday) and there's probably a raft of politicians marching down the main street of the nearest major metropolis.

You can avoid the political controversy over the whole celebration because, really, if you stop to think about it, there was no way that all of Europe was going to stay on their side of the pond forever. Globalization was bound to happen. I'm sure the indigenous population had their own word for Columbus's intrusion, but that's what it was. As a result of a search for financial advantage, the Americas were introduced to Europe. I'll leave the would they have been better off remaining un-found to those with more interest in navel gazing than I have. It's a moot point. The world is and was and always will be a series of interdependent spheres. It's only the access points which change. (Need an example? Go to Erie, Pennsylvania and see the results of progress.)


Columbus Day is a holiday without stricture, without structure, without musts, shoulds or oughts. It is a break from school when you can go apple picking or clothes shopping or jump in the leaves. You can hike or take the kids to a museum or just clean your closets, all while enjoying an official holiday.

Thanks, Chris.

2 comments:

  1. …… OR Since the stock market couldn’t care less about Chris’ intrusion, the buying and selling of market shares will continue, and instead of apple picking, jumping in leaves, shopping, or simply stopping to smell the DELICIOUS fall air, I am at a desk, staring at a grey sky from 50 floors high

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  2. Just need to clean up one factual point, "Columbus, on the other hand, sailed across the flat world..."

    This is something that was improperly taught for a very long time because it's a convenient way to get kids to think about things. Unfortunately it's just not true. Educated Europeans were aware that the Earth was round from the time of the ancient Greeks. It's possible that some of the uneducated crew of the ships expected to fall off the edge of the map, but Columbus would have been well aware that he lived on a globe.

    He might have thought that the sun revolved around the Earth, he clearly thought that the world was smaller than it ended up being - he thought he could make it to India in a matter of weeks sailing - and he was very wrong about geography. All that said, he knew the earth was round.

    Ok, getting off my soap box =)

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