The Day to Party Like it is 1492

Today is Columbus Day observed across the United States.

Not even a partial government shutdown can stop the day set aside to honor the 15th Century explorer.

I am sure most of us recall from the story how Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and “discovered” the new world.

Of course there were already people living in the new world when Columbus arrived and scholars often debate the timing of the arrival of vikings in terms of who really arrived from Europe first, but for our purposes here let us just agree that it was old C.C.

Now, in addition to learning about the year of the arrival of Columbus students are also taught from an early age the names of his three ships that accomplished the journey.

These ships were of course the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.

Growing up my parents had models of the three ships that Columbus sailed.

From the scale of the models as a kid it was hard to determine how large the ships were in reality. Still, even my younger me mind envisioned the ships to be much larger than they were.

A few years back I had the opportunity to visit a replica of the Niña when it was berthed in the Houston Ship Channel. What struck me the most about the ship was how small it was.

While I was picturing something more along the lines of some of the tall ships I had seen in ports along the Atlantic Coast the Niña and her ship sisters were more along the lines of being large yachts by today’s standards.

A replica of the Nina as seen in the Houston Ship Channel a few years back. The ship travels to posts in the western hemisphere as a floating museum and is a must see for anyone who gets the chance. Photo R. Anderson

A replica of the Niña as seen in the Houston Ship Channel a few years back. The ship travels to ports in the western hemisphere as a floating museum and is a must see for anyone who gets the chance.
Photo R. Anderson

Considering the size of the ships that make cross Atlantic journeys today it is hard to imagine courage that it took to travel into unknown waters in such a tiny ship as the ones used during the Columbus voyages.

Still, despite the smallness of the ships they were able to get the job done and helped introduce Europeans to the new world.

Of course whether that was a good thing or a bad thing is certainly something that tends to get debated as well.

But let us assume that most of us would not be here were it not for the age of exploration.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus and his crew set sail from Spain in the three ships and made landfall on October 12 on one of the Bahamian islands.

Columbus sailed from island to island in what we now know as the Caribbean, looking for the “pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, and other objects and merchandise whatsoever” that he had promised to his Spanish patrons, but he did not find much.

In March 1493 Columbus left 40 men behind in a makeshift settlement on Hispaniola before returning to Spain.

While the first trip in 1492 gets the most acclaim what is often forgotten is the fact that Columbus made four trips across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain.

In addition to the aforementioned 1492 journey,  trips were made in 1493, 1498 and 1502. Columbus was determined to find a direct water route west from Europe to Asia, but he never did.

Although the trade route was never found, his journeys marked the beginning of centuries of trans-Atlantic conquest and colonization which ultimately led to the founding of America.

With such a momentous set of dominoes put into place by the voyage of Christopher Columbus it makes me wonder why the holiday isn’t given more attention.

I mean July 4th is deserving of fireworks because it was when America gained its independence from Great Britain.  New Year’s Day gets fireworks because it is the start of a new year and I guess that was deemed fireworks worthy.

I maintain that there should be fireworks on Columbus Day as well since in a round about kind of way there likely is no America or even Canada as we know it without Christopher Columbus.

Instead of just another day to have deals on cars and appliances as all minor American holidays from President’s Day to Memorial Day have turned into, Columbus Day should include floats, parades and fireworks. That is unless we all would rather still be living in Europe.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time to go pay a Columbus Day visit to those three models from my youth and see if I still have any fireworks to set off tonight in honor of the man who paved the way for the man who first stepped foot in what is now America.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson