As children we all learned the ditty "In fourteen hundred and ninety two Columbus sailed the ocean blue". We also memorized the names of his three-ship fleet: The Nina, The Pinta and The Santa Maria.
We've heard the stories of how Columbus actually got lost and discovered American by mistake; how the Queen was angry with him and almost refused to fund his voyage and; we've heard others claim different beginnings of this country.
But there is much more to this really very interesting story.
When a sailor on the Pinta spotted land that October 1492 a new era of expansion and exploration began. It was hardly what Columbus had in mind. His goal was to find a new, safer and faster route to Asia from Europe.
In fact, it is said that Columbus died believing he has reached Asia. He had expected to see people from Asian India and therefore referred to the natives he did meet as "Indians."
His first landings were actually in the Bahamas and the island he re-named San Salvador.
Columbus had made an intriguing deal with the Catholic monarchs of Spain, Isabel and Ferdinand. If he were successful in his first voyage he would be knighted and appointed The Admiral of the Ocean Sea. He also received ten percent of any new wealth found.
And he was successful on his first voyage. The problem came some ten years later when he was charged with misadministration in the Caribbean. But his titles remained in tact, although his social prominence did not.
It is interesting to note that the continent Columbus discovered was named, not after him, but after an Italian explorer and mapmaker, Amerigo Vespucci.
The first known celebration held in the United States in honor of Christopher Columbus was October 12, 1792. The Society of St. Tammany (also known as the Columbian Order) used the celebration to commemorate the 300th anniversary of his famed discovery.
It was 100 years later that President Benjamin Harrison created the first official Columbus Day holiday. It was at this time that the city of Washington was officially named the District of Columbia.
The international Roman Catholic fraternal association known as The Knights of Columbus lobbied state governments to make October 12th a legal holiday. Colorado was the first to sign on, followed by New York. The holiday was changed in 1971 to the second Monday in October, regardless of the date.
There are still those that dispute the right of Columbus to Claim "discovery" of an already inhabited land.
According to Dr. Michael Berlinger, PhD. Discovery "does not mean that no human eye had been cast on America before Columbus arrived. It does mean that Columbus brought America to the attention of the civilized world, i.e., to the growing, scientific civilizations of Western Europe.
The result, ultimately, was the United States of America. It was Columbus' discovery for Western Europe that led to the influx of ideas and people on which this nation was founded--and on which it still rests. The opening of America brought the ideas and achievements of Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, and the thousands of thinkers, writers, and inventors who followed."
He goes on to say "Prior to 1492, what is now the United States was sparsely inhabited, unused, and undeveloped. The inhabitants were primarily hunter/gatherers, wandering across the land, living from hand to mouth and from day to day. There was virtually no change, no growth for thousands of years.
With rare exception, life was nasty, brutish, and short: there was no wheel, no written language, no division of labor, little agriculture and scant permanent settlement; but there were endless, bloody wars. Whatever the problems it brought, the vilified Western culture also brought enormous, undreamed-of benefits, without which most of today's Indians would be infinitely poorer or not even alive."
Columbus Day is indeed a day to celebrate - it is a day to be thankful for the courage of an explorer willing to risk failure and ridicule. Remember, the concept of a round world was a new and bold idea at that time and it took much daring to even express such a view, never mind act on it.
As we celebrate Columbus Day on October 9,2006 it is a wonderful time to reflect back on all of the people who took such enormous risks to open the door to the new world we take for granted today.