On this rearranged Columbus Day, courtesy of Congress’ move to make three-day weekends for pleasure, there were early signs this morning that not everyone had a day off, though too many have unwanted leisure time -- the growing number of unemployed, some chronically. But a portion of those still getting a paycheck were on the roads, adding to the noise level as minimum-wage landscapers started lawnmowers and leaf blowers to sing a shrill suburban tune and manning the counters at convenience stores, malls, etc.. No holiday for these guys.
On such a day, there will be parades to note the Italian explorer, who, working for a Spanish queen, stumbled upon what would become the Americas. Italian-American accomplishments will be noted, as they should be, though the achievements of all ethnic groups, which built and build these United States, stem from the first footprints of Columbus’ landfall at Hispaniola in 1492. Though Leif Ericson made it to North America about 500 years before, it was Columbus who set in motion European exploration of the “New World.”
Exploration of all sort ensued, and the cauldron of experimentation, inventiveness, democracy, independence and influence continues to be stirred. There have been missing ingredients, such as overdue recognition of the Native Americans chased to reservations, and, worse, killed, in manifest destiny; slavery; ethnic prejudice; and greed, which Republican President Theodore Roosevelt trust-busted for the public good and which on this Columbus Day again feeds growing protest across the land.
No American holiday is for itself any more, and perhaps never was. Labor Day. Memorial Day. Veterans Day. Workers may be off; children have no school; good weather brings out the barbecue and other leisure activities; officials note the particular day’s purpose, which some of us are reverent about, but for the great majority, the holiday is just that -- “a day of festivity or recreation when no work is done.”
Enjoy Columbus Day. But please know this: Every holiday is actually followed by “labor days,” for when the 24 hours are up, it is those many days and nights that will make or break our stressed nation, as has been the challenge before, as has been the opportunity to afford us true holidays.