As many of us are preparing to enjoy the long Columbus Day weekend, I find myself once again asking, “Why exactly do we still celebrate Columbus?” He wasn't American. He never made it to America. Everything he did had something wrong with it.
Sure, the guy put together an impressive expedition several centuries ago, but it’s fairly well known by now that he never even set foot in what is now the United States. He stumbled upon the Bahamas, then went to Cuba, a nation Americans can’t even legally visit today. During a later voyage came close to Panama, but that’s as close as he got to mainland North America.
He died still thinking he had found a better route to Asia.
He thought he was off the Asian coast, near India or China. China! That’s like saying you’re going to head to the Patriots game this Sunday, you end up watching sumo tournament in Tokyo, and come home and mention that Tom Brady looks fatter and less heavily padded in person.
He ran the Santa Maria aground. The guy in charge of the Pinta took off on his own unauthorized expedition. Columbus was arrested during a later expedition and stripped of his titles. One of the first things he did was to enslave some of the native population. His greatest contribution to North America was smallpox.
We take a day off to celebrate incompetence, at best.
My 12-year-old son, Brendan, is a devout anti-Columbite (I couldn’t be more proud). I remember him coming home from school the year he studied all the explorers and saying, “Why do we study this guy? He was horrible. He didn’t discover anything. There were already people here.”
He went on a roll, and I was loving it.
“I don’t even think we should take the day off. I want to go to school this day. If they open it, I’ll go in. I’m serious. He was a jerk.”
It was fantastic.
Brendan may be a bit prejudiced, but he gives St. Brendan credit for being the first European to lead an expedition to America. Did he make it? Who knows, but you can’t prove he didn’t.
In any case, he didn’t enslave anyone, crash a ship, think he was in China, or help spread a disease that killed an unknown number of people.
As for me, if we’re going to make up a holiday so we can have a long weekend, do it in August, and do it for someone better than Columbus.
If you want to learn more about Columbus (and I don’t know why you would), click here or here.
Jon McGrath grew up and lives in Westborough. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow him @JonMcGrath01581.