A brief history of Columbus Day

Columbus Day is a national holiday celebrated in North and South America every year in October. It marks the discovery of the American continent by Christopher Columbus, or Cristóbal Colón (born Cristoforo Colombo), as he is known in the Hispanic community. He was an Italian explorer who came across the land quite by chance as he was on a voyage to discover a new western route from Europe to Asia. Columbus and his crew landed on the shores of this “New World” on October 12, 1492, which went on to become a day of national celebration in countries across North and South America.


In the United States, it is known as “Columbus Day”, where as in Latin America it has many different translations. In Chile, for example, it known by its more poetic title “Día del Descubrimiento de Dos Mundos” and in Argentina it is known as “Día del Respecto a la Diversidad Cultural”. These Latin-American names aim to be more respectful towards the indigenous communities as they were technically the first people to discover the land. So in South America, Columbus Day acts as a celebration of the birth of a new identity through the fusion of the indigenous people and the Spanish colonisers.

In Colombia – the only country to be named after the discoverer – the celebration is known as “El dia de Cristobal Colon” and the public holiday will take place this year on Monday October 17. Initially, “Colombia” was actually the general name given to the whole of the newly discovered continent, before being tied specifically to the country as we know it now – although it originally adopted the name of the “United States of Colombia”!

If you’re looking to find out more about the history of Colombia and about colonial times, check out this excellent tour here.


Where as in the United States this public holiday is often celebrated with parades and large events, in South America it is a day dedicated more to the history of the continent, with schools focusing lessons on the events surrounding Columbus’s arrival. It is a day of reflection over the link it created between Europe and America, but also a day of controversy as many people remember the clash between the arrival of the Europeans and the indigenous people. Read more about the controversial history surrounding this national holiday here: Día de la Raza

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