Christopher Columbus (bless his heart) doesn’t deserve his own holiday. In fact, it’s difficult to think of any other historical figure who has achieved more lasting fame while being completely incompetent.
Columbus basically spent eight years floating around the Caribbean Sea, convinced that he was next to India. He never figured out that Cuba is actually an island, and he never came close to setting foot on (or even suspecting the existence of) the enormous landmass to the north that every elementary school child is told he discovered. He also filled his ships with iron pyrite (thinking it was gold) and tree bark (thinking it was cinnamon).
But Americans love to celebrate mediocrity, so for most of the United States the second Monday in October is devoted to him. But not in South Dakota, where I grew up. In South Dakota, we celebrated the official state holiday of Native American Day.
South Dakota (bless its heart) doesn’t offer much, but I was always proud of it for this.
Of course, it would have been stupid to try to celebrate both Native American Day and Columbus Day at the same time. Since the basic ideals commemorated by each holiday are so antithetical to each other, why would anyone even consider celebrating both? I mean, on one had you have a celebration of indigenous people and their culture, and on the other you have a celebration of conquest and brutal enslavement. What kind of moron would think you should celebrate both days?
Anyway, now I’m in Arkansas.
The other day, my sister received this email from her boss: “This is a reminder that [we] will be closed on Monday, January 17 in observance of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert E. Lee Birthdays.”
Yes. Arkansas (along with Alabama and Mississippi–two states everyone wants to be associated with), actually celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee on the same day.
Which, on the surface, doesn’t seem to make much sense. I mean, on the one hand, you have a modern-day hero, a clergyman who used non-violent methods to fight for (and eventually die for) the principle that all men are created equal.
And on the other you have Robert E. Lee: defender of slavery and a harsh critic of abolitionism, a slave-owner who brutally punished those who sought their rightful freedom. And let’s not forget that Lee was actually a traitor to his country, choosing to align himself with the eventual losers because he believed in the “pure, Christian, white commonwealth” he believed the Confederacy was meant to become.
I can’t imagine that either one of these guys would be happy sharing their holiday with the other. Smashing these two guys’ legacies together… It’s like a bad sitcom.
Albeit one that I would still watch every week.