Who doesn’t love a holiday? It usually means a day off from school or work––that is reason enough to celebrate. Holidays like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving are staples in American life. There has, however, been controversy about what we are truly celebrating and whether or not these holidays should be removed or changed. People view everything with a lens of political correctness in today’s society that makes simple celebrations into an affront against entire races of people. Anything can be offensive if we trace back its history, but societal perceptions change over time. Holidays celebrate the ideal version of events and people in history. When viewed using the idealistic perspective, Columbus Day and Thanksgiving should remain American holidays.
Columbus Day is a double-edged sword. Christopher Columbus did not discover the Americas; he was not the first to arrive, nor was he was the first to settle on the land. Columbus brought Arawaks to Europe as slaves and returned to the Americas with cattle and goods, resulting in the proliferation of smallpox among the Native population. But Columbus also spurred the global economy by introducing the Americas to the trading market. His actions opened up the Americas to various aspects of European culture, both positive and negative. While his treatment of the Natives was inhumane, he did play a role in establishing the country that we have today.
Thanksgiving also has two interpretations. We celebrate it as a day of coming together, in references to the British settlers and the Wampanoag Indians eating together in commemoration of the peace treaty. Unfortunately, the camaraderie found in the original meal was quick to disappear as greed arose and British settlers claimed the Native American’s land as their own.
Do later actions dispel the good faith of the early ones? Isn’t the good will of that first meal what we are truly celebrating? The taint of later actions is affecting the perception of the true goal of the holiday. Thanksgiving is celebrated as a day to come together with loved ones, eat and be grateful for both the food and the company. The goal of both Thanksgiving and Columbus Day is not to honor conquest and imperialism but rather ideas of heritage and family.
Columbus Day is meant to be a celebration of the mingling of cultures and the blending of European and Native American ways of life; a day for European and Native American people to examine how their roles in history helped shape contemporary America. It’s not meant to be viewed with such a negative connotation, but perhaps this is an issue of semantics.
The name could be changed to better represent the true purpose of the holiday and dispel contradictory notions. Some states celebrate Native Americans’ Day or Indigenous People’s Day, but this seems contrary to the celebration of the exchange that occurred. Cultural heritage across ethnicities should be celebrated and the name should reflect that. Thanksgiving, however, does not have this semantic issue since its name is a good representation of what it is: a day to be thankful for what you have and to put aside conflicts in order come together in good faith.
Columbus Day and Thanksgiving should ultimately be viewed with this perspective of idealism. Holidays are meant to highlight the best of who we are as Americans with a history of cultural exchange, and we ought to view them as such.