MARTHA SEZ: ‘Celebrate Columbus all you want, but don’t expect everyone else to’


As we all know, in fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Ever since, we have been forbidden to wear white shoes or linen clothing or straw hats after the second Monday in October, simply because Christopher Columbus stepped ashore in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492. I say it is high time to end this tyranny.

Yes, we are told to carefully pack away our summer garb, replacing it with “back-to-school” attire–but what if we don’t feel like it?

What if it’s warm enough to wear flipflops or shorts? What if you, like many women I know, tend to “run hot?” Must you capitulate to the arbitrary restrictions associated with Columbus Day?

And what does Christopher Columbus have to do with it anyway?

Cancel culture, you say? Go ahead, create a special shrine in your bedroom to the Italian navigator, no one’s stopping you. Put some little model sailing ships on there while you’re at it. You can make replicas of the Nia, the Pinta and the Santa Maria yourself using walnut shells, with toothpicks for the masts. Then, using your glue gun (be careful, it’s very hot!) you can put on little sails. If you want to really go all out, getting into the spirit of the thing, you could glue one of those tiny Guatemalan worry dolls into a ship to represent Columbus. Just a thought.

Maybe burn a cinnamon-scented Yankee candle and decorate the shrine with a Keurig coffee maker with some of those little tubs of pumpkin spice coffee so you can celebrate old Chris’s fruitless search for the Land of Silks and Spices–always remembering that he never found the fabled Orient, which was his goal.

It’s a free country! Celebrate Columbus all you want, but don’t expect everyone else to, because, as I say, maybe we don’t feel like it.

They say Columbus was an expert navigator, but look at a globe. I can trace his route with my fingertip across the Atlantic Ocean from Italy to the Bahamas, the place he ended up while he was trying to find a route to Asia. It’s pretty much a straight line. He could have just floated there if the currents were right. No sailing around the perilous Cape of Good Hope for this guy.

Columbus told everyone back home that he did get to India, and he called the Caribbean natives Indians, figuring nobody would be the wiser, but of course eventually the Europeans realized the truth–especially Scandinavians, who knew that Leif Eriksson had landed in North America–even getting as far as what is now Canada!–five centuries earlier.

Eriksson and his Viking crew knew what they were doing. They weren’t pretending they were in India. Columbus never did find his route to the far East, and he died a sad and disappointed, but also very wealthy, man.

Many well-meaning people, sometimes known as “snowflakes,” choose to celebrate Columbus Day because they feel sorry for the failed explorer.

“Times were different then,” they say. “Enslaving the natives of foreign lands and parading the lifeless corpses of those who opposed colonial rule through the streets when you were the governor of what is now the Dominican Republic in order to inspire terror and encourage obedience was OK. Nobody used to know it was wrong. It was just, you know, what people did. Like not wearing white or pastels until Easter.”

Also, although probably not on purpose, by expanding trade routes, Columbus and his crews spread disease including smallpox to “the New World,” killing many “Indians,” who did not have the benefit of herd immunity or vaccinations or penicillin in those days.

So OK, maybe Columbus didn’t discover a secret new route to the Land of Silks and Spices, or even set foot in North America. He did, however, open up a new age of colonization in the New World, and made a lot of people, including himself, rich beyond their wildest dreams of avarice. But that doesn’t mean we need to close the post office. I’m just saying.

The first Columbus Day celebration took place on October 12th, 1792, in New York to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Christopher Columbus arriving in America (actually the Bahamas). Does that mean that we all have to celebrate Columbus Day in perpetuity? No.

Columbus Day is officially celebrated in New York, but not in Alaska, Hawaii, Texas, Arkansas, California, Colorado or 21 other states. I won’t be participating.

Have a good week.

(Martha Allen lives in Keene Valley. She has been writing for the News for more than 20 years.)