What’s So Great About October 9?

In addition to being the second Monday in October—a month with, yikes, five Mondays in 2017—October 9 this year (and every so often) commemorates Columbus Day. Are you planning to celebrate? Or use the time off to go shopping?

Forget the bank, the library, the Post Office and the DMV. But, if you have the day off, have a good time anyway. The airlines will be flying. The stores will be open.

statue of Christopher Columbus in Barcelone, Spain
Christopher Columbus in Barcelona by Dave Wilson. CC license.

October 9 wasn’t (and isn’t) always a holiday, of course. Columbus Day originally was assigned to October 12, the generally agreed-upon birthdate of Christopher Columbus and the beginning of the European incursion into what was then called The New World in, probably, 1492.

Official recognition began in 1937, although the holiday itself had been celebrated in various parts of the United States since at least the eighteenth century. It was in 1970—a time when so many holidays became occasions for that even more important American life, the long weekend—that Columbus day was fixed, as Wikipedia puts it, to the second Monday in October. Which, coincidentally, is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. Hmm, seems like everybody likes a long weekend.

But what is the full significance of these moveable feasts? Is it easier to remember second Monday in October than October 12? Well, maybe, I don’t know if it’s been tested.

What I was thinking about was the fate of all those other days that fall—that are indeed fixed—at October 9. What happens to them when they’re elbowed out by this national need for a tidier long weekend? What happens when they’re not Columbus’s birthday, but—for example—yours?

I write this as one who has such a relationship with Labor Day, another one of those long weekends. Every so often I find myself celebrating my birthday on Labor Day, which I have to admit is not nearly so de trop as it would be to have been born, say, on December 25 or January 1. Those birthdays are always a problem—or a blessing, depending of the attitude of the celebrant—but having a birthday on Labor Day is merely an occasion for somebody to make a mild little joke.

In my case, my own mother. It was a favorite little sally of hers to assure me that, yes, I had indeed been born on Labor Day and wasn’t that nice? Of course I looked it up and as it happens the exact day of my birth was not the day that official Labor Day happened that year. Which did not in any way mitigate her satisfaction in the pun. Alas.

Having been born on October 9 probably doesn’t represent quite that same risk of low humor, unless your family happens to have a relationship to Columbus upon which one can only speculate. In that case, please accept my sympathy and/or congratulations. It’s your year!

Oh, and by the way, October 9, every single year, is Leif Erikson Day—proclaimed by President Calvin Coolidge in 1925—even if nobody seems to care any more. It is is also, among other celebrations, National Chess Day and National Moldy Cheese day (yay).

three Native Americans in ritual garb
Grand Canyon_Native American Heritage Day by Erin Whittaker. CC license.

Also, of course, the second Monday in October, no getting around it, is Native American Day, not yet a national holiday, but official in California and South Dakota. It is, however, celebrated widely all over this country. Let’s hope it catches on, though it probably won’t be made official this year. Felicitations anyway—to everybody. Have some moldy cheese. It’s good all year round.

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