Tag Archives: Columbus Day

Reflections ~ Holiday Haunts

I am always conflicted when it comes to holidays.  It may be in part due to the historian in me.  I’m always poking into closets and behind the curtains to see what there is to know about origins and metamorphosis.  Consequently, I often find the unpleasant aspects of things we have learned to cherish.  A few examples might be appropriate.


Courtesy of WANA Commons & Patti O’Shea

Christmas is not about the birth of Christ.  The celebrations that the human species have established during the winter solstice are varied and have changed and morphed throughout the millennia.  These celebrations usually centered on the return of longer days, the change in seasons.  December 25th (or so) is the date that the sun has returned a full degree into the sky and all the priests knew it was “coming back,” although a long winter may still be in the offing.  Christians used a time of celebrations and gift giving to allow the open celebration of the coming of Christ.  Jesus, you see, was actually born in the spring.

Easter.  I think my awakening on this account came the year I realized I was celebrating a risen Savior nearly a full month before the Passover.  Ummm, wait a minute.  Isn’t it supposed to be, Last Supper, Night of Passing the Buck, Crucifixion, burial, missing body.  How could the calendar get so jumbled up this was all in reverse mode?  That would be because Easter, as it is celebrated in the Western World, has little to do with Passover.  It is celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. It is the ancient fertility festival of planting, new life and the hearts of young men and women. Oh, and ham would have been the LAST thing on the mind of a cook for a Passover meal.

I try to ignore Columbus Day as much as I can, usually referring to it as Yellow-Fever Day.  Sorry, but Columbus did not discover America (lots of people were here already and Europeans and Asians had been making the trip for centuries).  His arrival was, however, the spark that led to centuries of slavery and systematic eradication of native culture and history.  And natives.

So, full circle and here we are at Thanksgiving.  Pilgrims and “Indians,” lots of food and wonderful harvest and all that.  Except that it wasn’t.  The very first Thanksgiving was the celebration of a massacre sparked by the death of one individual.  It’s not terribly clear what he died of.  In many ways the holiday is quite offensive to Native Americans.  By some twist of strange psychology I know this and accept this but still see great value in the focus of the holiday.  Perhaps it’s because for me the origins provide an even deeper reason to stop, contemplate and share.

The holidays are a very stressful season and usually open wide familial wounds and conflicts.  It is evidently not true that suicides and depression increase during this time of year, (NYU Langone Medical) If there are any issues it is with the “Winter Blues.” But there is still stress. I have, in years past, found my own way of seeking peace on this day of reflection. Perhaps, in part, because I know that good fortune is sometimes at the cost of another’s loss.

Some years ago I was one of the founders and operators of a private retreat property in Montana.  It was our practice to open our doors on major holidays to anyone and everyone that would come.  It was not necessary to bring anything, just come.  I would cook for 2, sometimes 3 days to prepare for the event and we would end up borrowing dishes and utensils from all over the place. I remember one Thanksgiving when we managed to convince a Viet Nam veteran to visit.  He braved the encounter and by the end of the day he was the favorite uncle of all the younger children.  A substitute family, but one that brought him joy.  You see, that is what Thanksgiving means to me.

Visit a neighbor, a friend, a family member.  Avoid the stores at all costs.  If you eat out think of some way to thank those who gave up their holiday to serve you.  Find a way to support those in America with far less.  Maybe add to a local food bank as millions of Americans see a cut in their food stamp support.  Smile, hug, hold a door open.  Stop, for just one day and appreciate what you have and seek ways to share it. There is always someone else with less, someone who paid for your bounty.


Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, Personal Journeys

Book Review ~ Dissecting History While Writing Intrigue

The Columbus Affair by Steve Berry.  Available in various forms including paperback for around $10.00

columbusWell, I took a weekend off just recently and read a novel.  Something I haven’t managed in several months.  It was a bit irresistible; I happen to really like Steve Berry even if I don’t always agree with his hypotheses.   This one was quite an adventure; a different point of view on the motivations and goals of the celebrated and denigrated mariner, Christopher Columbus.

Just a little background is in order at least in part because those things we are most familiar with we often know the least about.  The first known observance of anything like a Columbus Day was in 1792 in New York City.   Nothing much happened after that until the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage to the new world.  In 1892 the president, Benjamin Harrison, called for a national observance. The holiday was used to teach ideals of patriotism including support for war, citizenship, boundaries and national loyalty: oh, and “progress.” Columbus Day was not established as an annual holiday until 1906 in the state of Colorado.  It became a federal holiday in 1937.

During the time in our history when our shores were flooding with immigrants, there was a large Catholic contingent arriving from European countries.  They were not well appreciated.  In order to capitalize on the purported religion of Columbus, the Catholic immigrants formed the Knights of Columbus.  The hope was to fight the prejudice they were facing in their new homeland.   The use of his name for the organization caused consternation as the holiday gained traction.

Italians took up the banner and worked hard to bring about public notice of Columbus’ accomplishments and it was they who pressed the hardest to establish a commemorative holiday. It wasn’t until 1971 that the official date was set as the second Monday in October (which also happens to be the Canadian Thanksgiving).

Not everyone liked the idea.  In fact, three states do not celebrate Columbus Day at all, one being Alaska.  In Hawaii they use the day to recognize their Polynesian ancestors and the founding of the island nation.  In South Dakota they observe a Native American Day.  This trend is growing as opposing parties lean toward using the holiday to observe something to do with indigenous people.  So, although the resistance to the holiday in the 19th century was mainly due to fear of giving Catholics too much influence, the trend today is much more oriented to the lost heritage of the peoples the Europeans unseated.   In South America the celebrations are most definitely oriented to remembrance of the people who lost their freedom, their culture and their lives in the European onslaught that followed.  To them Columbus only represents disease, slavery & exploitation.  I fully admit that for years I have referred to the holiday as “Yellow Fever Day.”

Columbus was not the first to find the western hemisphere.  Leif Ericson arrived in Canada in the 11th century.  A recent book entitled 1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies has raised much controversy.  Also, recent evidence indicates that the Polynesians may have been in South America as early as 1304-1424.   It was a rather busy place.  Why, then do we look to Columbus as the pivot of history?  He is a very controversial figure.  No other encounter caused as much death, destruction and loss of human dignity.  Centuries of slavery and treatment as some sub-human race crushed the peoples of the South American continent and set the tone for attitudes toward indigenous peoples throughout the western hemisphere.  What a loss of ancient wisdom.  So we ask, why?  What was the motivation behind the man that spearheaded this movement, this rape of a foreign land?

Wikipedia sticks to the mainstream tale.  Columbus was born in Genoa of a merchant class family.  Recently published writings indicate that he was a social climber par excellence and worked hard to get to the place where he could claim the aristocratic titles he so craved.  Some interpretations say that he was a devote follower of the church and his primary mission was to bring Christ to the natives.  Well, there is that thing about gold and such, too.  Of course said natives, once converted, were to serve their masters without complaint.  This was actually one of the projects that got the Jesuits in such a pickle.  They actually learned the native languages and tried to teach the remaining population to become self-sufficient and contributors to the changing economy around them.  Educated, literate people don’t particular care to be slaves.  So, the Jesuits had to be sent home, and not in good graces.

Is there another story?  Did Columbus have other goals in mind?  We have a great deal of evidence that he did not hold the natives in high regard so we can’t really picture him as concerned about their well being, spiritual or otherwise.  So what was he up to?

Steve Berry wraps a story of intrigue that takes you to Jamaica, Cuba, Austria, Prague and Florida in search of the real Columbus.  As always his afterword sorts the fiction from the known, or suspected.  This is an intriguing tale that follows the hints that history left which just might point to an alternative Columbus.  One that was a devout Jew, forced to convert to survive.  One in search of a safe haven for his own people.   Here is an article from Huffington Post that provides more details on this interesting approach.

Hints left in history.  Columbus had no problem thinking in terms of a “round” earth, no one really did.  The Greeks had known for centuries that the earth was a globe and there had been expeditions to explore the western lands.  It was just the size of the globe that Columbus miss judged.  In fact he was following the navigation notes of another European who had already reached the Americas and returned.  Though his purported goal was to spread the gospel, his initial voyage had no priest on board.  He did, however, have a Hebrew interpreter.  When his family, weary from court battles, finally settled for some small portion of what the crown had promised, they accepted Jamaica as their spoils.  His family controlled Jamaica for 150 years.  It was not Isabella’s jewels that financed the voyage; the Spanish crown didn’t have the funds to support a voyage across the Strait of Gibraltar.  It was the Jewish court advisers that provisioned the ships.

So, there you have it.  A real history mystery that many pooh pooh and others find worth the trouble to research.   Check out Berry’s book and see what he has to say.

Tell me things you’d like to know – I’m always up for a good hunt!


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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Fiction