Baker’s Dozen – Fun Facts About Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day

In honor of Columbus Day, here are some fun facts about Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day.

1)  Christopher Columbus was an Italian who made four voyages to the New World between 1492 and 1503 under the authority of Spain.

2)  Christopher Columbus’ first trip took about five weeks or 70 days and included three ships – the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María.  The Santa María would become grounded on Christmas Day and was abandoned.  First landfall was in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492.

3)  On none of the four voyages did Christopher Columbus ever make landfall anywhere on the 48 contiguous states now known as the United States of America.  He made landfall on what is now the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and on various points in Central America.

4)  Columbus Day is celebrated not only in the U.S. but in many other countries, too.  It is known as Día de la Raza in many countries in Latin America (Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Venezuela), as Discovery Day in the Bahamas, as Día de la Hispanidad and Fiesta Nacional in Spain and as Día de las Américas (Day of the Americas) in Uruguay.  Christopher Columbus never set foot on land in many of these countries.

5)  Christopher Columbus was seeking a western route to Asia and had intended to land in Japan.  He never admitted that he had reached a continent previously unknown to Europeans, rather than the East Indies, and continued to insist that he had found a new route to Asia.  That is why Columbus called the inhabitants of the lands he visited indios (Spanish for “Indians”).  Columbus’ arrogant refusal to admit this probably led to Amerigo Vespucci being able to claim naming rights to the New World – to become known as America.

6)  The first European explorer to reach the Americas was led by the Norse expedition of Leif Ericson nearly 500 years before Columbus’ first expedition; however, Columbus’ voyages led to the first lasting European contact with America, which started the great period of European exploration and colonization of these lands.

7)  While the European colonization that followed was a great boon, economically, to the colonizing nations, Columbus saw his accomplishment primarily in the light of the spreading of the Christian religion.

8)  On the first voyage, a lookout on the Pinta initially spotted land very early on the morning of October 12.  He alerted the rest of the crew, and the captain of the Pinta verified the discovery and alerted Columbus.  Columbus later maintained that he himself had already seen a light on the land a few hours earlier, thereby claiming for himself the lifetime pension promised by Ferdinand and Isabella to the first person to sight land.

9)  Columbus Day celebrations date back to the colonial period but gained a lot of traction when the Italian immigrant community in New York City celebrated Columbus’ Italian heritage on October 16, 1866.

10)  Opposition to Columbus Day dates to at least the 19th century, when activists, including the Ku Klux Klan, sought to eradicate Columbus Day celebrations because they thought they were being used to expand Catholic influence.  Today’s opposition centers more around Columbus’ and Europeans’ actions against the indigenous populations of the Americas.

11)  More recently, historians are starting to shed light on the character of Columbus himself.  It is pretty well established that Columbus was “an unrelenting social climber and self-promoter who stopped at nothing— not even exploitation, slavery, or twisting Biblical scripture— to advance his ambitions. . . . The fact that Columbus brought slavery, enormous exploitation or devastating diseases to the Americas used to be seen as a minor detail – if it was recognized at all – in light of his role as the great bringer of white man’s civilization to the benighted idolatrous American continent.”  This information is important if we are to fully understand the whole view of this chapter in our history.

12)  Columbus Day is a federal holiday celebrated on the second Monday in October each year.  In 1905, Colorado became the first state to observe Columbus Day.  In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed every October 12 as Columbus Day.  Since 1971, Columbus Day has been celebrated on the second Monday in October.

13)  Hawaii and South Dakota are the two states that do not recognize Columbus Day at all.  Hawaii celebrates Discoverers’ Day, which commemorates the Polynesian discoverers of Hawaii.  Many local communities now replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day or Native American Day.

Sources: U.S. DOL, Wikipedia








Portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519

Poem used by educators to teach children about Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day.

IN 1492

In fourteen hundred 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.

Ninety sailors were on board;
Some men worked while others snored.

Then the workers went to sleep;
And others watched the ocean deep.

Day after day they looked for land;
They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.

October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!

“Indians! Indians!” Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.

But “India” the land was not;
It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.

The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.

Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he’d been told.

He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.

The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

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