The question seems to come up every Fall: why do we celebrate Columbus Day, exactly? The guy may have been a brilliant navigator, but it’s not like he actually discovered North America or came anywhere close to China.
Let’s let the always-funny Mo Rocca explain a little better:
We don’t want to focus too much on the dubious things Columbus did when he reached “India”. We’re more interested in the fact that Franklin Roosevelt established the holiday in 1937 after an extended lobbying campaign conducted by The Knights of Columbus, the nation’s biggest Catholic “fraternal benefit society”. And why did he do it? To win more votes, of course.
Obviously some people will disagree with this conclusion as some still see Columbus as a hero. But there’s little doubt that a political advocacy organization brought the holiday about with decades of events and messaging efforts that received plenty of media attention: they held their first parade in 1892 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his “discovery of the new world”, and most Americans now accept it as a standard federal holiday.
However you may feel about the occasion’s origins and meanings, that’s a big victory.