Happy Columbus Day!
Yes, I dare say it. I know he's white and male and dead. It kinda begs the question of why we celebrate certain days and people and events.
I was thinking . . . why Columbus and not someone else born in the fifteenth century?
He wasn't the first to sail to America. First there were the Native Americans, then a number of others, most famously the Vikings. There are stone inscriptions all over the place with symbols also found in the Old World. Weird, like some of those History Channel programs. Obviously, people weren't dumb before Columbus. They could build boats and write. And even build pyramids, come to think of it.
But there's something about 1492 that's special, even epochal. A turning point of civilization, if you will. Whether you think it was mostly good or mostly evil is beside the point. There was a change.
Europeans poured into the New World. Some of them came for opportunity, others for freedom from persecution. We still glamorize the Pilgrims because we honor the ideal of religious liberty.
Other things happened. The Native Americans were pushed west and eventually lost most of their land. Many died. But some live on in the blood and sinew of living Americans like me, who possess Native heritage.
The struggles of the past literally live on in my flesh: French Huguenots fled France and that's part of my DNA. Scots left Scotland--some of them were persecuted during the aptly named "Killing Times." And Native Americans rose up against the English and vice versa. All of these groups show up in a blood test. But I can enjoy my multiple heritages without conflict. For a history nerd, it's awesome.
Columbus Day is important because it is an opportunity to learn and to discuss. Your children need to learn who he was, what he did, and what motivated him (all men are complex, so this is tricky). Then there's the result--what happened later? How did the discovery change the world?
For advanced students: what if Columbus had never lived? How might it have changed history?