Finding America

Happy Columbus Day. Sort of. Traditionally in the United States Columbus Day was established on October 12 commemorating the day when Columbus landed on what is now San Salvador in the Bahamas. But then the greater American tradition of moving as many holidays to a Monday to create 3 day weekends overwhelmed the quaintness of memorializing an event on the date the event happened so we are celebrating it on the second Monday of October, October 10 this year, instead.

Now we can contrast that with the traditionally traditional argument that we shouldn’t be celebrating a Columbus Day at all, on a Monday or a twelfth day, or an any day. We should instead recognize the contribution of Leif Erikson who landed on what is now Newfoundland almost 500 years before Columbus made his pitch to Ferdinand and Isabella. To that end we have Leif Erikson Day celebrated on October 9, every year. Nobody really knows exacnewworldtly when Leif wandered past Baffin Island so somebody picked that date because it is the day an organized group of Scandinavian immigrants reached New York City in 1895.

One thing that is certain is that even though Columbus made 4 trips from Europe to “The New World,” the only time he actually landed on continental soil he was somewhere around modern day Honduras, fairly far from Washington D.C. where all the fuss about what day to celebrate emanates. On at least two of those voyages, the first and the fourth, his expressed intent was to land on land bearing resemblance to Asia or India. On the second and third voyages he at least partly intended to colonize the islands he had previously visited. None of the four were huge successes but he did well enough to warrant all federal employees getting an extra day off and have a city in Ohio named after him, all from a country within whose border he never trod.

A bit less certain is if Leif even meant to sail past Baffin Island. Leif was the second son of Erik the Red, who established a settlement on Greenland in 980. We don’t know if he was born there or on Iceland from where the family moved, perhaps urgently. Around 1000, Leif Erikson sailed from Greenland to Norway, hung out with King Olaf I for a while, converted to Christianity, and was to return to Greenland to spread the new faith. Many believe that Erikson’s landing on the north coast of Newfoundland was due to missing Greenland on that return. Whether he missed it or intentionally detoured his return to find new lands for subsequent explorers, he eventually made it to the settlement on Greenland and never returned to the continent. But that one stop made him the darling of anti-Columbian agitators and gets him a day of observance and a presidential proclamation every year, all from a country within whose border he never trod.

Continuing to contrast, it can be argued that it’s inappropriate to recognize anybody’s discovery of America since there were already people living here. How they got here is somewhat fuzzy due to the lack of record keeping from 10,000 years ago but they came from Siberia, Australia, or the Middle East depending on your source and/or obsession.

Then again…archeologists can deduce American societal findings dating earlier than the 25,000 years ago that migration would have been practical and there are indeed native cultural formations.It could be that those who place original settlements in America to a time the world began its exit from the most recent ice age (and the beginning of global warming?) may be the ones who should get an extra day off in October.

Whatever camp you belong to, don’t look for mail this morning.

That’s what I think. Really. How ‘bout you?


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