The second Monday of every October is Columbus Day, a day commemorating Christopher Columbus’s first sighting of the Americas (San Salvador Island, specifically) and celebrated as early as the 18th century. It’s been celebrated as a holiday by various states, and was made a national holiday in 1934 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (read more about its history at the Library of Congress’s American Memory).
In 1971, Columbus Day became a federal holiday by a presidential proclamation of Richard Nixon. (You can read more of Nixon’s thoughts on the subject, in the Public Papers of the Presidents, in print, at the Government Publications Department).
The holiday is not without controversy. Some states and municipalities have chosen not to observe Columbus Day, in deference to protests that Columbus’s landing was the beginning of years of strife for Native Americans. South Dakota has replaced observance of Columbus Day with a state holiday called Native American Day (and many other efforts have been made to honor Native American heritage, irrespective of Columbus Day). Others see the day as an occasion to celebrate, specifically, Italian Americans, and more generally, immigrants as a whole. (Though right now it looks like immigrants may be getting a separate time for celebration.)
Interested in learning more? See what else the Library of Congress has to offer, or delve into the statistics of immigration. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has published the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics since 1996. Or come visit the Government Publications Department at the Parkway Central Library to explore our materials in print. Good places to start: The Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970 (also available online), The Historical Statistics of the United States: Earliest Times to the Present, and the Statistical Abstract of the United States from 1878 to the present.
(Just don’t come on Columbus Day – the library will be closed.)