Exploration Day > Columbus Day

First celebrated nationally in 1937, Columbus Day pays homage to Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas. It is, needless to say, viewed very differently by different groups of Americans. Some people forget it's a holiday at all. Some Italian Americans see it as a point of cultural pride. Other people — especially Native Americans — point out that Columbus personally oversaw the murder and enslavement of thousands and see the holiday as an intrinsically cruel celebration of the beginning of a massive genocide and generations of oppression.

For some reason, we've been unable to deal with problem of Columbus Day, but now some folks on the Internet have a solution that actually makes a hell of a lot of sense: Replace Columbus Day with Exploration Day.

The logic is quite neat. Columbus Day is about one guy and the (actually untrue) claim that he was the first person to discover America. Inherently, that's pretty Euro-centric, which is a big part of why it sits awkwardly in a pluralistic country. But exploration is inclusive. The ancestors of Native Hawaiians were explorers who crossed the ocean. The ancestors of Native Americans explored their way across the Bering land bridge and then explored two whole continents. If you look at the history of America, you can see a history of exploration done by many different people, from many different backgrounds. Sometimes we're talking about literal, physical exploration. Other times, the exploring is done in a lab. Or in space. But the point is clear: This country was built on explorers. And it needs explorers for the future.

Exploration Day would allow us to honor the importance of exploration — and the pride we take in being explorers — without marginalizing some Americans and without perpetuating damaging myths about our own history. Bonus: Exploration Day could double as a holiday for science. Looks like a win to me.

Read more about the idea at ExplorationDayUSA.org

Sign the WhiteHouse.gov petition asking to rededicated Columbus Day as Exploration Day.


  1. Hawai’i already does that!  

    Here the holiday is officially “Discoverers’ Day” and just as you say, it is taken as honoring, among others, the native Hawaiians’ incredible feats of navigation in discovering and settling the islands.  I like that a lot.

    1. Indigenous People’s Day is just about the exact opposite of Explorer’s Day, far as I can tell.  Which one should it be?  

      1. You could look at it that way, or you could look at “indigenous people” as the descendants of the first explorers.

        Either way I think they deserve remembrance more than a guy with bad navigational skills who began the wholesale destruction of their society. They lost their lives, their land and their culture to the European settlers, the least we can do is have a day to acknowledge that.

    1. Really? I think the schools still call it Columbus day. I like the idea of exploration day. Also, it’s easier to say than ‘indigenous’ and if there’s one thing I like in my national holidays, it’s easy pronunciation. 

  2. I like this idea a lot.

    We could celebrate astronauts, deep-sea divers, and Professor Challenger, whose expedition to the Hollow Earth has long been unfairly ignored.

    Petition signed.

    1. Actually, a lot of Italian Americans celebrate it, seemingly without any awareness.  Here in Boston’s North End it’s big enough to get a parade that alternates between this neighborhood and East Boston.  Celebrations center around Christopher Columbus Park, which is really very nice if you ignore the name and the statue.

      1. It’s big in SF, too.  Partly because you can actually see the fireworks in October, unlike the July 4th fireworks which are obscured by fog.

  3. Excellent idea.  Could we also move it to July 20, when the weather’s better for camping (in the northern latitudes)?

  4. Exploration is a really problematic term in this context, as this exploration wasn’t done for knowledge’s sake alone, as the rather neutral word suggests, or might suggest. Columbus sailed with money and men from the Spanish Empire, as part of an ongoing colonialist-imperialist activity that wrecked so many native cultures over its hundreds of years of operation. Exploration was the vehicle by which war, trade, conversion, and European settlement traveled around the globe.

    1.  re: ” as this exploration wasn’t done for knowledge’s sake alone”

      Why does that matter? Most exploration isn’t purely for knowledge.

      1. Right, but it tends not to end with the body count, dispossessions, forcible conversions, appropriated treasure, etc., that colonialist explorations often did, and toward which all tended. That’s not really the same with, say, Shackleton or the Curiosity probe: Antarctica wasn’t divorced from the British Empire’s expansionist drive, nor is Curiosity free from American militarism (in space!), but I’m not seeing the massive dead native populations that resulted (or will, or could result) from these.

        TLDR, read Joseph Conrad and get back to me.

        1. If your comment was TL;DR for someone, there’s no way in hell they’ll get through Heart of Darkness.

    2. Yeah, that’s my problem with the concept too. It mashes together imperialistic abuse with mere migratory movement and implies that they’re the same thing. Without denouncing the former; instead, it just kind of, disappears.

      1. Well, it was really all about the astrolabe and scientific curiosity, didn’t you know? 

    3. The Spanish Empire was itself a reaction to the “ongoing colonialist-imperialist activity that wrecked so many native cultures over its hundreds of years of operation” known as the muslim conquests. Al-Andalus has much to answer for.

  5. There are two petitions.  Here is the link to both.  Thank you for the coverage.  We will address some of the concerns here soon.  I think I will start with the fact that you can not erase history.  Similar to science fiction stories….the same forces can be used for good or evil.  However, I don’t think anyone can deny that exploration benefits humanity.  We have a different perspective now in the 21st Century than many had in the 15th century.  Humanity has matured and progressed.  All we can do is push forward, but first we have to be honest about our past.


  6. I think it still won’t fly. There’s too large and vocal a segment who believe that exploration is intrinsically evil because all the time and money spent on it should be spent solving the problems at home. That is to say, Columbus and all the others should have stayed at home and devoted their efforts to improving the lives in dwellers in the slums of Europe. Obviously, the explorers’ lives were all failures: Europe still has slums.

    All forms of scientific inquiry meet the same argument – either the time and money is better spent elsewhere, or else the inquiry is too risky and will lead only to new problems.

    Happy mutants really are mutant.

    1.  But all those “New World” resources absolutely founded a lot of European wealth, banking and so on.  Even if it didn’t really ‘trickle down’.

          1. You know the Vatican didn’t even support it.  It was Fernando and Ysabel’s private little holocaust.

    2. There’s too large and vocal a segment who believe that exploration is intrinsically evil because all the time and money spent on it should be spent solving the problems at home. 

      Vocal? Yes. Large? Not really. Every now and then, someone will pop up and criticize the likes of NASA; William Proxmire, the late senator from Wisconsin, gave one of his Golden Fleece awards to NASA for the SETI program (which he later rescinded). 

  7. Enh, Exploration Day doesn’t really change the fact that it’s actually Columbus Day, imo. It’s peeing on my leg and telling me it’s raining.

    1. I don’t know the history of it very well, true, and while I’d agree with you if we were say, talking about changing the name of independence day…columbus day doesn’t really seem like an actual celebration/memorial (like Veteran’s day or whatever) as much as an excuse for a day off/sales. So why not make it in honor of something else?

  8. Columbus was what he was and I don’t much like him, or what he was. 

    Columbus – opportunistic venal enigma.

    More important, Irish, Vikings, Chinese claim have visited Americas before Columbus and strong evidence of exists.

    However, we Russians explored Americas long, long before Irish, Vikings, Chinese.    

    1. There’s no “hard facts” in science — all conclusions are contingent on the possibility of future evidence against.  On the other hand, there is plenty of archaeological evidence for migration through the Bering strait.  Given the lack of plausible alternative hypotheses and the robust evidence for the Bering strait hypothesis, it is indeed a fact just like evolution, gravity, and plate tectonics are all facts despite also being “theories”.

      1.  I should have mentioned the DNA evidence, that’s actually much more conclusive than the archaeological evidence.  The consilience of the two lines of evidence is more convincing still.

  9. I totally read it as Exploitation Day, which also works but probably wont get as many Advertisers signing up to it.

  10. I’m all for eliminating non-hero worship, as long as I can still get a mattress on sale for 50 percent off.

  11. I always forget about Columbus Day. As a government employee we get holidays off. So, Veteran’s Day? I know when Veteran’s Day is. Somewhere along the way the State of Minnesota “traded” Columbus Day for the day after Thanksgiving and now work on Columbus Day. Which is great. No offending our large Native American population and I can get drunk with my family at Thanksgiving. Win-Win for everyone!

  12. Can’t we just have Columbus Day but think of it the same way the British think of Guy Fawkes Day?

    1. No. The difference is Fawke failed to bring about a Catholic-inspired terrorist act in England and people are celebrating that failure (well, to the level that they think about the reason behind the celebration at all those days). Columbus succeeded, and while lamenting the human cost, all present Americans live in a world created by his actions, even those partly descended from pre-Columbian peoples and people whose ancestors came long after the colonial period. It’s kind of hypocritical to criticize the event that led to you existing, even like all historical contingencies it led to lots of other people not existing in the present because their ancestors were killed or displaced.

      1. It’s kind of hypocritical to criticize the event that led to you existing, even like all historical contingencies it led to lots of other people not existing in the present because their ancestors were killed or displaced.

        How so?  Would you say the same to a child born of rape or some other horrific situation?

        Columbus as a personification of ‘discovery’ is particularly contentious because he was *just* so unbelievably despicable, evil and cruel, even for his time, which the writings of Bartolomé de las Casas certainly attest to.

        The origins of the holiday in the U.S. are almost exclusively because of Italian Catholics which itself seems to have been somewhat of a response to WASP bigotry toward Catholic immigrants. I won’t even get into the way this holiday helps keep alive harmful myths of superiority, manifest destiny etc. etc…

        Lots of bad juju stinking up this holiday.  I’d be happy to see it go.

        1. It wouldn’t be hypocritical of the child to be against rape in general but certainly it would be to be against that *particular* one. But then again, what does it really mean to be against a past event anyway? Just to be against similar future ones? After all, that’s the only thing that can have any practical effect.

          But yes, it’s true that Columbus Day was really an Italian-American pride day, which made more sense when they were viewed with the same prejudice that hispanics are now and not so much now when they are fully assimilated.

          1. It wouldn’t be hypocritical of the child to be against rape in general but certainly it would be to be against that *particular* one.

            Then this doesn’t conflict with people in the Americas being against this holiday, just because some of them may not have possibly existed without the arrival of Columbus.  I find this a strange notion anyway tbh.  Somebody else would have come along anyway, just as others had been here before Columbus.

      2. It’s kind of hypocritical to criticize the event that led to you existing, even like all historical contingencies it led to lots of other people not existing in the present because their ancestors were killed or displaced.

        This, if true, would imply that I’m a hypocrite if I criticize anything occurring in my past light cone. I actually do believe that all human beings are moral hypocrites so that isn’t even all that implausible, but it’s certainly not going to stop me from criticizing, say, Nazism just because I probably wouldn’t have been born if Hitler had never come to power.

  13. Oi, good luck with that.

    I’m not saying this isn’t a most worthy endeavour, but the thing about you Americans is that you’ve mythologized your history to make it easily digestible. The Boston Tea Party! Paul Revere rides at midnight: “The British are coming! The British are coming!” Ben Franklin flies a kite during a lightning storm. Ooo-aah. And of course: “In fourteen-hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…”

    The up side to this sensationalist spin on historical fact is that it produces these iconic images which stick in people’s minds, thus history sticks in people’s minds. The downside is that it makes Columbus part of some sort of Olympian-esque American pantheon. And even if it’s well-documented that Columbus was not a great guy, and that our worship of him is Euro-centric and colonial-imperialist, it’s going to be a tough thing taking him down off that pedestal. 

    1. Your broad generalizations are idiotic. You’re stating YOUR perceptions of historical events, not “you Americans”.

  14. “Discovery” refers to unknowledge. To say Columbus “discovered”  America is only to say that Europe didn’t know it existed which, by the 15th century, may well have been true. It is NOT to say others hadn’t done so earlier, or that America didn’t exist before then. (OK, it didn’t exist until after Vespucci’s maps, but that’s another story…)  

  15. It’s a fantastic idea. However, the main reason I don’t think this idea will fly is the attachment that many Italian-Americans have with Columbus Day – I don’t know if you’ve driven around Newark or Brooklyn on Columbus Day, but it’s a pretty important day for many Italians in this country and they’re a pretty influential group. You remember that Sopranos episode, right? ;-) 

    Anyway, I REALLY hope this actually happens – I’ve signed the petition and love the concept. 

    1. I don’t really get why it’s a popular holidays with Italian Americans given that he had to leave Italy and go to Spain to get backing. It’s kind of embarrassing actually.

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