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Columbus Day

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In 1937, President Roosevelt proclaimed October 12 as "Columbus Day" and in 1971, President Nixon declared the second Monday of October a national holiday.

Since 1971, the holiday has been commemorated in the U.S. on the second Monday in October, the same day as Thanksgiving in neighboring Canada. It is generally observed today by banks, the bond market, the U.S. Postal Service and other federal agencies, most state government offices, and some school districts; however, most businesses and stock exchanges remain open.

Many countries in the New World and elsewhere celebrate the anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas, which occurred on October 12, 1492 in the Julian calendar and October 21, 1492 in the modern Gregorian calendar. The day is celebrated as an official holiday in many countries. In Latin America, the day is celebrated as Día de las Culturas (Day of the Cultures) in Costa Rica, as Discovery Day in The Bahamas, as Día de la Hispanidad (Spanish Day) and National Day in Spain, as Día de las Américas (Day of the Americas) in Uruguay and as Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance) in Venezuela. These holidays have been celebrated unofficially since the late 18th century, and officially in various countries since the early 20th century.

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS discovered America in 1492. At least that is what all elementary school children were always taught. Of course, Columbus never did "discover" North America, and the regions he did explore were already inhabited. He only discovered them from the viewpoint of the Europeans. Yet his first voyage did prove one thing for sure, that the earth was not only round, but that it was bigger than he had thought.

Christopher Columbus (1451–1505)

Columbus, the son of a wool merchant and weaver, was born in Genoa, Italy and went to sea at the age of 14. Following a shipwreck off the coast of Portugal in 1470, he swam ashore and settled in that country.

Between 1477 and 1482 Columbus made merchant voyages as far away as Iceland and Guinea. But in 1484, his "Enterprise of the Indies" idea fell on deaf ears when he presented it to King John of Portugal. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Spain, where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella became more interested in his adventuresome ideas.

To the New World

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On August 2, 1492, Columbus set sail in search of the East Indies. The voyage was financed by Ferdinand and Isabella by making the city of Palos pay back a debt to the crown by providing two of the ships, and by getting Italian financial backing for part of the expenses. The crown had to put up very little money from the treasury.

Columbus and 90 crewmen boarded the three ships that were to make the first voyage to the New World, the Niña, Pinta, and the flagship, Santa Maria. On October 12, 1492, Columbus first saw the islands of the new world, landing in the Bahamas. Later in the month, he would sail to Cuba, and to Hispaniola (now Haiti). He thought he had reached the East Indies, the islands off Southeast Asia.

Contrary to popular belief, most educated individuals in the 15th century, and especially sailors, already knew that the earth was round. What was not realized by Columbus, however, was just how big a globe it was. Columbus seriously underestimated the size of the planet.

Columbus made three additional voyages to the New World. The second voyage set sail in September, 1493, with 17 ships. During his expeditions, he helped to colonize Hispaniola, and discovered the South American mainland. He did not, however, see mainland North America during any of his voyages. He returned to Spain for the last time on November 7, 1504. He died at Valladolid, Spain on May 20, 1506, at the age of 55.

Controversy

Much controversy exists over Columbus' expeditions and whether or not one can "discover" an already-inhabited land. The natives of the Bahamas and other islands on his journey were peaceful and friendly. Yet many of them were later enslaved by the Spanish. Also, it is known that the Vikings explored the North American coast 500 years before Columbus.

Nevertheless, Columbus' expedition was unique and important in that it resulted in the first intertwining of Europe with the Americas, resulting in the first permanent European colonies in the New World.