Monday, October 13, 2014

Columbus Day

Today is Columbus Day - still, thankfully, a federal holiday, even if, in the contemporary fashion, it is observed on a Monday now instead of on its proper day. (Since the actual anniversary of Columbus' first landing in the New World falls on a Sunday this year, the legal holiday would be transferred to today anyway.)

Growing up, we used to look forward to Columbus Day as the first of the autumn school holidays. Just a month after the start of school on the Monday after Labor Day came Columbus Day on October 12. That was followed by All Saints on November 1, Election Day the following Tuesday, Veterans Day on November 11, Thanksgiving Day and the day after, and finally Immaculate Conception on December 8. The fall semester was filled with nice holidays, all nicely spaced and spread out among the days of the week - simple pleasures now largely lost, that have virtually disappeared from contemporary school calendars!

But, anyway, back to Columbus. To us in school, he was, of course, a Catholic hero (adding a bit of balance to a U.S, history that glorified its primarily Protestant founders and presidents). More personally, he remains the great Italian hero of American history. Of course, Columbus sailed in the service of the Spanish Crown. To this day, his descendants are Spaniards and hold Spanish titles of nobility derived from him. And so his anniversary is appropriately commemorated in the Hispanic world as el Dia de la Hispanidad. New York's 5th Avenue has for years featured two parades - the Hispanic one on Sunday, the Italian heritage one on the Monday holiday (the latter preceded in recent years by a Columbus Day Mass in Italian at St. Patrick's Cathedral, which I used to enjoy concelebrating at). 

In more secular circles, Columbus Day has largely fallen out of fashion - along with so much of history and the understanding and appreciation of history that are so essential for a civilization to survive. That's a bigger problem than any slights to Italian ethnic pride, but it is not unrelated to the sadly diminishing understanding of religion's key role in the formation of ours and other American nations. And, of  course, like the evangelization of Europe in the first millennium, the initial evangelization of North and South America that began 500+ years ago with Columbus' voyages is the inescapable background for the "New Evangelization," that our society's new circumstances are calling for.

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