Were you as stunned as I was to go to the bank on Monday and find it closed?
The library and post office, too.
It was Columbus Day.
I wasn’t so much stunned to find out it was being celebrated a full five days before the real Columbus Day. I’ve gotten used to the powers-that-be moving our holidays around the calendar chess board.
What stunned me was how little attention the whole holiday receives anymore.
When I was a kid, it was a major holiday to be celebrated with class plays and recitals of the famous doggerel. What American schoolchild didn’t know what happened in fourteen hundred and ninety two?
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.
A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go.
Learning about Columbus’ voyage helped us begin to understand our heritage. It was the portal to all that followed: the explorers, the colonists, the discovery of our continental treasures, America the beautiful, fruited plains and amber grains.
It unraveled, if it oversimplified, the peculiar notion back then that the earth is flat. Silly and preposterously uninformed, but certainly understandable. The earth does seem flat. What schoolchild, standing on his street, hasn’t tried to spot the curvature of the planet or to feel it spinning?
It taught us that anything is challengeable, if the challenger is courageous and emphatic, willing to put his life where his mouth is.
It explained our relationship to Europe. Why we speak English in the U.S., while they speak Spanish in much of Central and South America and French in part of Canada.
But then, about the time 20 years ago we were about to celebrate the 500th anniversary of that amazing voyage, Columbus suddenly fell out of vogue. He was made to bear the entire guilt for what settlers did to the Native Americans, taking away their territories, killing them and corrupting their food supply, introducing them to tobacco and alcohol and penning them up onto reservations, making them half-citizens of the land that had been theirs.
I happen to believe in political correctness. I’m not one to sneer at it as liberal weak-mindedness. A little sensitivity is an important ingredient for a civilized people.
But why pick on Columbus? We honor the birthday of George Washington, who also killed his share of Native Americans as a British officer in the French and Indian Wars and then again as commander of the colonial army; and of Abraham Lincoln, who supervised the mass killings of Americans by Americans.
We have two or three holidays a year to honor our veterans of foreign wars, who killed millions of people including British, Mexicans, Spaniards, Germans, Austrians, Italians, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and more during the course of our 236-year history.
We have a holiday seemingly devoted to the firepower required to carve out our independence. We have a holiday to honor a peculiar set of evil-doers – witches, ghosts and goblins. We have a holiday whose sole raison d’etre seems to be the slaughter of turkeys.
We even set aside a holiday to remember the murder of Jesus Christ.
Why did we draw the line at Columbus? Who and where would we be without him? Our candidates talk a lot these days about “American exceptionalism.”
One of the reasons for “American exceptionalism” is that it was founded by people willing to climb onto boats and head out across the flat seas on the flat earth into the great unknown.