minutia press.
Observing Columbus Day

For many years, I wondered why we have a holiday for Columbus. In some sense, it recognized gross navigational incompetence (he landed here, not in India), racial generalizations (if they're not Caucasian they must be from India), and faulty logic (his trip did not prove the Earth is round).

But this past Rosh Hashanah, our rabbi gave a great sermon about risk-taking. I think we should think of Columbus not in terms of what he did but what he tried to do, and that he dared to do it.

My mother's grandfather took a big risk coming to this country, and it separated him from his wife and kids for 10 years, while he worked to save enough money to bring them over. That risk paid off for me, as my wife's mother was born here after her mom finally was able to make the trip over.

I'm lucky and very proud to be an American. I'm not aware of another holiday that honors immigrant initiative, but I'll think of Columbus Day in those terms from now on.

So, thanks Chris, for taking risks and being so brave!

(Note just edited in: even Google seems to have missed this holiday. I thought they dressed their page up for even the most obscure holidays.)


For the record, it was pretty much accepted in Columbus's time that the Earth was round. It took so long for Columbus to find a sponsor because many kings and queens questioned his estimate of the distance to India (they correctly thought it was too short) and thought his entire crew would die on the trip.

It's also not 100% clear whether or not he really believed that he landed in the Indies. Some of the things he did and wrote in his journal suggest that he knew he wasn't in the Indies, but was willing to fake it in the interest of the Spanish crown sponsoring return trips. (For example, during his first expedition, he wrote in the captain's log that he tried to map the coastline of the island he landed on, which would have established whether or not he really made it to the Indies. But he had to give up when he found out that so much of the coastline was occupied by horrible half-human, half-animal monsters.)

Posted by: Greg at October 25, 2005 6:54 PM

Aw, New Yorkers aren't that bad!

Posted by: rkc at October 28, 2005 12:49 AM