In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue so that one day American parents would have to find a babysitter.
One of the main problems with Columbus Day — aside from the whole cultural sensitivity thing you’ve no doubt seen repeated ad nauseum in your social media feeds — is that too many kids get it off school while not enough adults get it off work. That’s problematic and something the powers-that-be ought to fix because, as it stands now, the holiday is a confusing, broken mess.
Luckily there are plenty of opportunities to take this amorphous blob of a commemorative day and turn it into something both meaningful and pragmatic.
Columbus Navigates the Carpool Lane
Vox’s Libby Nelson offers one of the better takes on Columbus Day’s logistical faults:
“The holiday is, as it stands, a logistical headache. Fewer than half of states celebrate it, and almost no other offices do. Just 15 percent of private business close, the smallest proportion for any federal holiday. So if you’re a parent in a Columbus Day-celebrating state… you’re probably scrambling to find something for kids to do on Monday.”
The primary reason for holidays such as Columbus, Memorial, or Veterans Day is so the government can save some extra scratch by closing a few additional Mondays per year. The issue here is that the government’s gain is the private sector’s loss. Many workers are forced to shell out for childcare or take the day off in order to mind their kids. This is, as Columbus might have said, non va bene.
The Niña, the Pinta, The Santa Maria… and Also a Freaking Purpose
Here’s a question with many possible answers: Why do we celebrate holidays?
To have a day of rest. To spend time with the family. To commemorate some event. To watch football. The list goes on, though for the most part the answers denote passive activities. Nelson suggests we as a society ought to shift toward more active and participatory observations of holidays. For example, make kids go to school on Columbus Day in order to learn about Columbus’ complicated legacy and explore America’s past. Establish a new tradition for the second Monday in October that promotes critical cultural thinking.
Then don’t stop there. Why can’t holidays dedicated to veterans and fallen servicemembers be pushed more as days of service rather than excuses for weekend retail blowouts? The way most people currently observe Memorial Day, for instance, it may as well be called “Go Ahead and Just Stay Home” Day. Nelson’s arguments evoke a salient point: Many of our holidays are major missed opportunities.
Either way, the current iteration of Columbus Day is disappointing in many ways and the current state of passivity toward it means we’re not taking advantage of an opportunity to make the day actually mean something. At the very least, we should make it so that parents don’t have to burn a sick day when Little Johnny doesn’t have to go to school.
Read more at Vox
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