As autumn leaves start changing hues and crisp air arrives, students await school holidays on the calendar. One circled date is Columbus Day, falling on the October’s second Monday. For students wondering if their school closes for Columbus Day, read this comprehensive guide.
The quick answer: Columbus Day is a federal holiday, but school closures vary widely – some states, districts, and individual schools stay open.
History and Background of Columbus Day
Every October‘s second Monday sees Columbus Day celebrated across much of America. But what‘s the backstory on this holiday? Let‘s dive deeper.
Origins of Columbus Day Celebrations
The first recorded Columbus Day celebrations in the United States took place in 1792, commemorating Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas 300 years earlier on October 12, 1492. Early events were organized by Italian American groups like the Tammany Society, founded in New York City in 1789. These groups pushed campaigns to recognize Columbus’ achievements and contributions to exploring the New World.
According to research by historian Matthew Dennis, author of Red, White, and Blue Letter Days, early Columbus Day events often promoted controversial racist, nationalist, and imperialist agendas. For example, President Benjamin Harrison’s 1892 Columbus Day proclamation justified denying Native Americans citizenship and basic rights by claiming “discovery of America was our stepping-stone to our present position among nations.”
The holiday gained wider acceptance when it became federally recognized in 1937 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This gave many – but not all – Americans a day off work and school to commemorate Columbus‘s arrival. However, even at its peak popularity in the early 20th century, Columbus Day was still only celebrated in around half of U.S. states.
In recent decades, Columbus Day has become increasingly controversial, with critics questioning whether it should continue being celebrated at all. They argue glorifying Columbus ignores the devastating impacts of European colonization on Indigenous peoples. In response, some states and cities have renamed the holiday Indigenous Peoples‘ Day to honor Native cultures.
Gradual Transition from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples‘ Day
The first city to officially replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples‘ Day was Berkeley, California in 1992. This followed a strong grassroots campaign from Native American groups in the area. Berkeley’s move inspired further pushes for Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognition, including in South Dakota, which had adopted the holiday statewide back in 1989.
Other notable Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day transitions include:
- Santa Cruz, CA – Switched in 1992 after Berkeley
- Aspen, CO – Switched in 2015
- Los Angeles, CA – Switched in 2018
- 130+ towns had made the change as of 2021
This growing movement aims to promote a more accurate, inclusive understanding of European colonization’s impacts while celebrating rich Indigenous cultures.
The choice to observe Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day still varies across different regions and communities. As of 2022, around 130 cities and 10 states officially observe Indigenous Peoples‘ Day instead of – or in addition to – Columbus Day. Current debates continue reflecting our evolving dialogue on how history should be remembered and honored.
Columbus Day as a Federal Holiday
Yes, Columbus Day is a federal holiday across the United States. It is observed annually on the second Monday of October to commemorate Columbus’ 1492 arrival in the Americas. Columbus Day was designated as a federal paid holiday in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Prior to 1937, Columbus Day was recognized as a state holiday in various areas, but there was significant opposition to making it an official federal observance. Jewish groups in particular lobbied FDR heavily against establishing Columbus Day, arguing honoring Columbus was offensive given evidence that he and his crew persecuted Jewish settlers. FDR ultimately decided recognizing Columbus Day as a holiday was important for garnering political support from Catholic and Italian American constituencies.
Columbus Day Significance for Government Workers
As a federal holiday, Columbus Day holds special significance for government employees. Most federal workers, including employees at federal agencies, departments, and institutions, typically have Columbus Day off work.
In 2021, United States Office of Personnel Management data indicates over 2.1 million executive branch government employees were affected by Columbus Day closures and paid time off. This allows public sector workers time with family and recreational activities.
However, not all government personnel are guaranteed off for federal holidays. Essential services like emergency response may still work Columbus Day to ensure public safety. Additionally, specific government entities can set their own holiday policies. It’s wise to verify your federal employer’s Columbus Day schedule.
Closures of Post Offices, Banks, Stock Market on Columbus Day
On Columbus Day, many public services and institutions close or have limited operating hours. These include post offices and most banks and financial institutions. The stock market also closes, with the New York Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, and other major exchanges taking the day off.
In 2022, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association recommended all U.S. bond markets close for Columbus Day. Investors and traders should be aware of potential market closures and plan trading activities accordingly.
Do Schools Close for Columbus Day?
Unfortunately there‘s no simple yes/no answer when it comes to school closures on Columbus Day. Closure decisions vary widely by state, district, and individual school.
Columbus Day Closure Decisions Range by Location
K-12 school closure decisions around Columbus Day are usually made at the state or district level. Some states recognize Columbus Day as an official state holiday, resulting in statewide school closures. These include Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. Students in these states get a day off from school to commemorate Columbus’s arrival.
However, in many U.S. states, Columbus Day is not designated as an official state holiday. Without this status, decisions around closing schools for Columbus Day are left to individual school districts or schools themselves. Factors like district calendars, local traditions, and student demographics often influence staying open or closing.
Here are some examples of different approaches:
|New York State
|Official state holiday – Most districts closed
|Not an official holiday – District decisions vary
|Los Angeles Unified School District
|Closed for Indigenous Peoples‘ Day
|San Francisco Unified School District
|Remain open on Columbus Day
Even in states where Columbus Day is a recognized holiday, not all districts close schools. Some observe the day with special lessons about Columbus while staying open as usual. This allows learning about Columbus without sacrificing instruction time.
Checking Your School‘s Calendar for Closures
To see if your school closes for Columbus Day, check their published calendar. These are usually available on district websites or school offices. The calendar will note all holidays and closures for the academic year, including Columbus Day status.
Local news sources and district social media also often announce holiday closures. Staying informed through these channels is recommended. Don’t assume your school is closed without double checking first!
Rising Popularity of Indigenous Peoples‘ Day
In recent years, replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples‘ Day has rapidly gained popularity. This shift seeks to honor Native American communities living in the Americas when Columbus arrived in 1492.
Criticism of Columbus Day from Diverse Groups
One driving force is escalating criticism and reevaluation of Columbus‘s controversial legacy. Indigenous activists have long condemned glorifying the devastating impacts of Columbus’s arrival. But in the 1990s, the dialogue expanded as a more diverse range of voices spoke out.
For example, at Columbus Day parades of 1992-1993, groups including Jewish, African American, and Japanese American organizations protested Columbus Day celebrations. They connected Columbus’ legacy of exploitation and colonization to their own groups’ historical struggles against oppression. Others raised objections based on Columbus’ role in the Atlantic slave trade beginning after 1492.
Overall, there is growing awareness that glorifying Columbus often ignores the immense violence, displacement, and cultural erasure inflicted upon Indigenous populations following 1492. Many argue blindly celebrating Columbus’s exploration accomplishments does not present history completely or ethically.
“Learning the true history of Columbus could help build cross-cultural understanding between Native communities and those whose ancestors moved here later.” – Robin S., Indigenous Education Specialist
By focusing on Indigenous Peoples‘ Day instead, activists promote more inclusive, accurate understanding of how European colonization impacted diverse communities.
Locations Now Observing Indigenous Peoples‘ Day
The Indigenous Peoples’ Day movement has expanded significantly since the 1990s. As of 2022, the following states have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples‘ Day through legislation or executive orders:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- South Dakota
Additionally, over 130 cities nationwide officially observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. More municipalities join their ranks each year. These cities recognize the vital importance of honoring Native communities’ contributions and working to correct false narratives.
However, many locations still solely recognize Columbus Day, sparking ongoing national debates about history’s complexity. Overall, the Indigenous Peoples’ Day movement clearly shows growing momentum.
Fun Facts and Trivia About Columbus Day
Popular Parades and Festivities
A highlight of Columbus Day in many communities is lively parades and festivities. These parades often feature colorful floats, marching bands, and costumed dancers celebrating Columbus’s arrival and Italian American heritage. Major events happen in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, the first recorded Columbus Day parade occurred in New York City in 1792 to mark the 300th anniversary of Columbus’s 1492 landing. Early parades were organized by Italian American groups who saw celebrating Columbus as a way to assert their identity andgain acceptance in a heavily discriminated society.
In more recent decades, Columbus Day parades have faced growing protests but continue today in many cities. Parade organizers argue the events honor positive contributions of Italian Americans, not just Columbus himself. Meanwhile, critics say parades glorify a legacy of genocide and colonization.
Columbus Day Sales and Bargains
Columbus Day is also known for major sales at retailers competing for shoppers’ holiday weekend spending. Stores traditionally promote special Columbus Day deals on items like clothing, electronics, and home goods.
However, some data indicates Columbus Day discounts have declined in recent decades as retailers shift promotions towards Black Friday holiday shopping instead. But certain stores still run significant Columbus Day sales, making them popular destinations for bargain seekers that weekend.
Surprising Fact: The first recorded Columbus Day celebrations in 1792 included shooting guns and ringing bells at sunrise, noon, and sunset in New York City.
Conclusion on Columbus Day School Closures
While Columbus Day’s federal holiday status grants some workers a day off, school closure decisions vary widely depending on location. Evolving perspectives have also motivated more communities to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.
As an education reformer, I believe Columbus Day raises many complex questions around how to balance celebrating achievements, understanding harm, and building an inclusive society. My hope is these debates encourage students to think critically about history from multiple viewpoints.
For now, don’t assume you’re off school for Columbus Day. Carefully check your district calendar and plan accordingly. Whether attending classes or not, take time to reflect on how we can each create a more just, ethical nation moving forward.