Columbus Day is a national holiday in many countries of the Americas and elsewhere which officially celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492. The landing is celebrated as “Columbus Day” in the United States, as “Día de la Raza” (“Day of the Race”) in some countries in Latin America, as “Día de la Hispanidad” and “Fiesta Nacional” in Spain, where it is also the religious festivity of la Virgen del Pilar, as Día de las Américas (Day of the Americas) in Belize and Uruguay, as Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural (Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity) in Argentina, and as Giornata Nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo or Festa Nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo in Italy as well as in Little Italys around the world. As the day of remembrance of Our Lady of the Pillar, 12 October had been declared a religious feast day throughout the Spanish Empire in 1730; the secular Fiesta de la Raza Española was first proposed by Faustino Rodríguez-San Pedro y Díaz-Argüelles in 1913.

Americans commemorated Columbus’s first landing in the Caribbean at least as early as 1792, when members of the Tammany Society of New York and, separately, the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, gathered to mark the 300th anniversary of the day the Spanish ships made landfall.

In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison said the entire country should observe “Discovery Day” to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing. It was formally designated as a recurring national holiday on Oct. 1, 1934, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed that Oct. 12 would be a day to display the American flag and engage in “appropriate ceremonies in schools and churches” every year. (It was later changed to the second Monday of October.)

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the holiday was often considered a celebration for Italian-Americans and Catholics. Churches and organizations such as the Knights of Columbus sometimes used Columbus Day gatherings to publicly condemn discrimination against Catholics.

The Columbus Day Parade in Midtown Manhattan is one of the country’s biggest celebrations of Italian-American pride, but the event has also become a source of controversy. This year’s parade will take place amid calls from various city officials and activist groups to remove a 70-foot monument to Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle. States of the Italian explorer have also recently been vandalized in Columbus Circle and Central Park.

Despite the controversy, this year’s parade is expected to draw more than one million spectators and more than 130 marching groups — including bands, floats, and cultural groups — according to parade organizers. Politicians such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, mayoral challenger Nicole Malliotakis, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Comptroller Scott Stringer are expected to march in Monday’s parade.

This year’s celebration will kick off with a special ceremony at 11:30 a.m., according to parade organizers, but the actual parade won’t start until noon. The parade is scheduled to last until 3 p.m. The parade will be held in Midtown on Fifth Avenue and continue into the Upper East.

Every year during the Columbus Day Parade several members of the Italian-American community are honored for their contributions to culture and society. This year’s grand marshal will be Barnes & Noble Chairman and Founder Leonard Riggio. Past grand marshals include Regis Philbin, former New York Mets Manager Bobby Valentine, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and politicians such as Rudy Giuliani, Mario Cuomo and Al D’Amato.

 

Article and photos by Joseph Ralph Fraia

 

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