Why NOT to Celebrate Columbus Day

Columbus quote

It is increasingly common to hear people question whether we should celebrate Columbus Day. My take is that it isn’t even a question. We should not celebrate this day. Unless we take a page from Seattle’s book and rename it: “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

Shane Claiborne shares the following reasoning on why not to celebrate this day, and I wholeheartedly concur:


A growing movement in America no longer sees Christopher Columbus as someone we want our kids to know as a hero, and a growing number of cities like Seattle and Minneapolis are no longer celebrating Columbus Day, swapping it for “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

While we are thankful for this land we call America, it is important not to romanticize the dark parts of our national history. In his book Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen points out that Columbus and the Spaniard conquerers approached the native Americans and would read aloud what came to be called “The Requirement” that went like this:

“I implore you to recognize the Church as a lady and in the name of the Pope take the King as lord of this land and obey his mandates. If you do not do it, I tell you that with the help of God I will enter powerfully against you all. I will make war everywhere and every way that I can. I will subject you to the yoke and obedience to the Church and to his majesty. I will take your women and children and make them slaves . . . The deaths and injuries that you will receive form here on will be your own fault and not that of his majesty nor of the gentlemen that accompany me.”

And from Howard Zinn,
“When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, ‘there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it….’
Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas. That beginning… is conquest, slavery, death. When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure-there is no bloodshed and Columbus Day is a celebration.”

Part of what we must do is re-learn our history – so that we do not read the Bible with imperial eyes but learn to read the empire with biblical eyes.

It is a sad story, and we would not hesitate to condemn such actions today. Yet ironically we celebrate this day as if somehow because it is behind the founding of our nation it is OK. It isn’t.

Claiborne closes with a desire to view our history not from the view of the victors and the elites, but from the side of the oppressed, and those who work tirelessly on their behalf: “Our history is different from the history told by nations and empires—our heroes are not the pioneers of colonialism and capitalism like Columbus* and Rockefeller, but the pioneers of compassion like Mother Teresa and Oscar Romero. And our holy-days are different from the holidays of pop-culture and the dominatrix of power.”

Ready to change this holiday? See if your city will follow the example set by Seattle and Minneapolis. It’s past time.


One thought on “Why NOT to Celebrate Columbus Day

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