Industry groups stop marking Columbus Day in October. As a retailer, will you follow suit?
Fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain…
Many Americans recited that nursery rhyme as children. But as with so many things we learn as kids, the story of Columbus’ journey across the Atlantic and his arrival in the Americas is far more complicated than the ditty indicates.
And many indigenous groups say that continuing to celebrate Columbus Day on the second Monday in October — as many retailers do with holiday weekend sales — is insensitive and even offensive.
At the recommendation of a newly formed Inclusion Committee, the International Sleep Products Association and the Mattress Recycling Council (which operates mattress recycling programs in California, Connecticut and Rhode Island) recently changed their recognition of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. The day is a holiday for ISPA and MRC employees. The move follows similar changes made by a growing number of other companies, organizations and schools, as well as local and state governments.
“Today we understand that while (Columbus) was an explorer and is credited with being one of the first Europeans to arrive in the Americas, we now know a great deal about the history and the way that he and his people behaved when they came to this continent,” Shannon Speed, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and director of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center, told NPR in an October 2019 report. “That’s not something we want to celebrate. That’s not something anyone wants to celebrate.”
A number of opponents of the Columbus Day holiday also note that Columbus anchored in the Bahamas and never actually walked on the land that is now the continental United States.
Yet many Italian Americans consider Columbus Day a celebration of their Italian heritage and want to hold onto the holiday tradition. “For many Italian Americans, Columbus Day isn’t just about the man but about what the day represents: a people searching for safety and acceptance in their new home,” according to the NPR story.
Columbus Day was first celebrated in 1892 and became a national holiday in 1934.
“Indigenous peoples first proposed (Indigenous Peoples Day) during a 1977 United Nations conference on discrimination against them,” according to the NPR report. “But it wasn’t until 1989 that South Dakota became the first state to switch Columbus Day to Native Americans’ Day, celebrating it for the first time in 1990. And then Berkeley became the first U.S. city to switch to Indigenous Peoples Day.”
Retailers who have held Columbus Day sales in the past may want to reassess, seeking to understand the concerns and preferences among diverse members of their communities.