Celebration Controversy–To Observe Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day?

People can’t seem to agree on anything these days, including what they were to celebrate on October 11, 2021. My calendar designated that day as “Indigenous People’s Day/Christopher Columbus Day.” In digenous People are referenced first because, of course, they were here first. Unfortunately, you cannot celebrate both occasions; it’s like trying to mix oil and water. Indigenous People believe Christopher Columbus did them wrong, so if someone honors Columbus, they’re basically thumbing their noses at the Indigenous People. You can’t be Switzerland; you must choose a side with whom to celebrate.

Indigenous People’s Day is actually the newest U.S. holiday. On October 8, 2021, President Biden signed a presidential proclamation formally recognizing it and declaring it a national holiday. Of course, that didn’t leave his countrymen much time to prepare for that event. Three days’ notice? But forget preparing. First you have to figure out the appropriate thing to do on such a holiday. The newspaper in my area was bereft of information about how you could observe the event.

The purpose for Indigenous People’s Day is to celebrate and honor Native American peoples and their histories and cultures. As President Biden’s proclamation noted, “On Indigenous People’s Day, we honor America’s first inhabitants and the Tribal Nations that continue to thrive today.” So, literally, Indigenous People can truly say, “We’re #1” since they were the first ones here, not that Johnny-come-lately, Christopher Columbus.

Biden’s proclamation earlier this month was the first time a U.S. president has officially recognized Indigenous People’s Day. Nevertheless, the day has been recognized and celebrated for several years. The impetus for it came from an international conference on discrimination that the United Nations sponsored in 1977. Berkeley, California instituted Indigenous People’s Day in 1992, the year marking the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Remember learning in school, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”?

Marking Indigenous People’s Day on the same day as Columbus Day arose as a counter-celebration to honoring the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus. Although hailed as an explorer and discoverer by history books, he has been denounced by some, including Native Americans, as representing the violent history of colonization of the New World in the Western Hemisphere. South Dakota, in fact, went so far as to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day in 1989.

But those opposed to celebrating Columbus Day probably have no idea of the history behind how that holiday came into existence. Ironically, both Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day arose from the mistreatment of minorities. Although named for Christopher Columbus, the day wasn’t so much about him as it was about Italian Americans.

Back in 1892, on the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage (still counting from the sailing of the ocean blue in 1492), President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day a one-time national celebration. The impetus for this announcement? Why, the lynching in New Orleans of 11 Italian immigrants. The president’s proclamation was seen as a means to appease Italian Americans and to ease tensions with Italy.

Fast forward to 1934 when the Knights of Columbus and a New York City Italian leader lobbied for a national proclamation of October 12th as Columbus Day. Nevertheless, it took until 1971 before the day became a recognized federal holiday. Many Italian Americans observe Columbus Day as a celebration of their heritage as opposed to idolizing or glorifying Christopher Columbus.

While Biden’s proclamation formalized the new holiday of Indigenous People’s Day, it gave no guidelines or even suggestions for observing it. How should you appreciate those the day seeks to honor? One way to do so is to learn more about the honorees. With the internet, that activity is literally right at your fingertips. You can go to http://www.sacredspaceonlinelearning.com/ssol-categories/native-american-first-nations-and-indigenous-peoples-nafni/ to check out public online resources and webinars offered by NAFNI (Native American, First Nations and Indigenous People) to bring awareness to their ways of life and traditions.

A second way to actively enjoy the day would be to make and enjoy some Native American food. Indigenous recipes can be found at https://www.powwows.com/25-favorite-native-american-recipes/. Three Sisters Soup sounds delicious and highlights the prevalence of three ingredients in the native diet: corn, beans, and squash. Fry Bread is a familiar food of Native Americans, but making it the traditional way fried in lard may not be the healthiest choice.

Columbus Day can certainly be celebrated as a tip of the hat to Italian Americans. Columbus was, undisputedly, a famous Italian who had an impact on America. His explorations are a part of history and need to be recognized. BUT, perhaps a better way to treat the holiday is to learn ALL of the story about his discovery of the New World, including, and especially, his treatment of the Indigenous People he encountered there. While history cannot be changed, our perspective of it might if we consider the entire story. Perhaps everyone could learn from the mistakes made in the past when it comes to human relations.

As for me, I prefer not to have to choose between the two holidays. I suggest we “accentuate the positive” and honor BOTH Indigenous People and Italian Americans. Nevertheless, I have a confession to make. I didn’t have the day off, so it was a day like all days to me. No celebrating or honoring was done–just working. I’ll do better next year and recognize these two groups, of which I belong to neither. Isn’t that what makes America great though? We are not all the same. By the way, you can kiss me because I’m Irish. You don’t even have to wait until St. Patrick’s Day, which isn’t a federal holiday….

WONDER-ing Woman:

Did you celebrate either Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day this week? If so, how? Were you aware of how Columbus Day initially came to be recognized? Is it possible to honor both Italian American heritage and Indigenous People at the same time?

Simple Celebration

Christmas.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year and also the most wearing. We’ve done it to ourselves.  The celebration of the birth of a baby in a stable has been turned into an extravaganza complete with parades, pageants, presents, parties and plenty to eat.  But bigger is not always better.  In fact, the bigger we make our Christmas, the less likely it is that we are celebrating the real reason for the season.  Ask yourself which mode truly captures the essence of the first Christmas–a simple celebration or holiday hoopla?

The first Christmas looked absolutely nothing like Christmas today.  There was no Santa looking for chimneys in Bethlehem.  There was no Christmas tree in the lobby of the No Room Inn.  There were no blinking lights shining around the fields where the shepherds were tending their flocks.  There were no presents for Mary and Joseph in the stable–just the presence of their newborn baby boy.

The Christmas for which you and I are preparing is a far cry from what happened a couple of thousand years ago in a small town in another part of the world.  Our Christmas is full of trappings–and that’s the trap.  The trappings are not, as the Grinch found out, what Christmas is really all about. Christmas is the simple (but amazing) story of the birth of a baby, God’s son, in a humble stable.  If the story is simple, why don’t we celebrate it simply then?

I have been challenged by a recent sermon to experience the miracle of simplicity at Christmas this year.  Since failing to plan is planning to fail, the best way to meet this challenge is to devise a concrete plan for a simple celebration.  Scaling back Christmas is no simple task; nevertheless, these are the guidelines I set for myself.

No mass mailing of Christmas cards.  While I love communicating with my friends and family, sending numerous Christmas cards is a time-consuming activity which detracts from the point of the celebration.  I get frazzled in choosing just the right card, getting the cards mailed in a timely fashion and determining whom to include (or delete) from last year’s mailing list.  Moreover, I am tempted to enclose the trendy Christmas newsletter which informs the world of the good news of what is happening in my life.  Wait a minute!  Christmas isn’t my story; it is HIS story.  It’s pretty disrespectful to blather on about my accomplishments and activities when the day belongs to someone else.

Minimal decorations.  If the Whos in Whoville could have a joyous Christmas without any decorations, why do I have to have my house decorated to the max?  Answer?  I don’t.  So far, I have an advent wreath on the entryway table, an Advent calendar hanging in the kitchen, and two small real trees as yet undecorated.  Period.  That’s way more than Mary and Joseph had up in the stable.  I could spend time decorating or I could spend time reading the Christmas story in the Bible and thanking God for all the blessings He’s bestowed upon me.

Purge perfection.  Unless you are Jesus, perfection is simply unattainable.  So why do I still aim for it?  I have to pick out the perfect present for each family member, plan the perfect holiday meal, etc.  Laugh if you will, but tonight I actually spent half on hour on Pinterest looking for a recipe for the perfect finger food to make for a Christmas event–an edible that someone will look at for about 5 seconds and then devour.  Why not focus on the One who is perfect and loved me enough to be born in a stable rather than on making my holiday perfect?

I could go on to make a perfect list of all I need to do to make celebrating Christmas simple this year, but then my focus is not on the simplicity of what (actually WHO) has brought joy to our world.  Yes, the Whos in Whoville got this one right.  Christmas is about WHO and not WHAT (trees, decorations, presents, activities, etc.)  We’ve already received a perfect present in the form of Jesus; the perfect way to celebrate His birth is simply to focus on Him and His love for us.  Don’t get caught up in the holiday hoopla.

Just WONDER-ing:  What could you do to make your celebration of Christmas simpler?







Revering The Rodent


Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s are now behind us and Valentine’s Day is not yet here.  At this point in my life, I am finding a great sense of appreciation for a lesser holiday.  It is one that doesn’t require decorating, present buying, and wearing seasonal clothing; best of all, it isn’t tied to celebrating with food that will expand my waistline.  What holiday is this?  Why it is one where the focus is on nature in general and a rodent specifically.  It is Groundhog Day, celebrated annually on February 2nd.

While groundhogs might be seen as cute by some, these small creatures simply don’t lend themselves to big holiday status.  We don’t decorate for Groundhog Day.  Even if we were supposed to do so, how would that be done?  Gathering around the carcass of a rodent, regardless of how adorable, just isn’t the same as family time around the Christmas tree.  And Groundhog Day activities are not clearly defined beyond watching a celebrity rodent emerge from his burrow.  Since groundhogs hibernate for a few months during winter, perhaps we could pay homage to them by donning a sleep mask and taking a long nap.  Not quite the same as roasting chestnuts on the open fire or creating homemade Valentines but probably much more relaxing.

Food is a hallmark of the big holidays.  We have chocolates at Valentines, eggs at Easter, something grilled on the Fourth, turkey with all the trimmings at Thanksgiving, and cookies at Christmas.  But what do you eat on Groundhog Day?  Certainly not the rodent du jour.  I’d hardly think it a celebration to eat any  dish made with a rodent.  According to my research, groundhogs ARE  edible.  Their meat is reportedly dark but mild-flavored and tender.  Just don’t forget to move the scent glands on their backs and forelegs before cooking your groundhog stew.  YUK!

groundhog stew

While I refuse to eat rodent, I have found some fairly appealing goodies to devour on February 2nd.  One year I made rodent cupcakes, with a miniature candy bar poking out of the cupcake to represent  a groundhog.  This year, I plan to try groundhog pudding.  It is similar to dirt pudding only you have little teddy grahams sticking out of the dirt in place of groundhogs because  cookies in the shape of a groundhog are apparently not available.

groundhog pudding cups

Holiday duds are also a question mark for Groundhog Day.  Other holidays have fairly distinctive clothing–bonnets for Easter (or at least your finest), red clothing for Valentine’s Day, anything red, white and blue for the Fourth,  ugly sweaters for Christmas, and party hats for New Year’s Eve.  Perhaps Groundhog Day should be celebrated in our PJ’s in honor of the rodent’s awakening from hibernation to see if any shadows are about.


Better yet, why don’t we just make Groundhog Day a day to celebrate nature? We can be glad that winter will be behind us at some as yet undetermined point in the near future, and rejoice that spring is ahead of us.  Perhaps we could even learn a little about our rodent friend who serves as the bearer of good or bad tidings depending on what he sees–or doesn’t see.

Wouldn’t it be fun to stock up on information rather than to pile up credit card debt for just one holiday?  I’ll bet it is more fun to learn that a young groundhog is called a chuckling than to look at a hefty bill for holiday purchases.  How about squirreling away the fact that groundhogs are the largest members of the squirrel family rather than having to pack away tons of Christmas decorations?  Instead of decking the halls, dying the eggs, and flying Old Glory, why don’t we marvel at how groundhogs dig complex burrows with several chambers, including a bathroom?

Sometimes simple pleasures are the best.  Holidays can be joyous occasions, but often we don’t get to enjoy them because we are too busy with all the fluff we think must go with them to focus on the reason for the holiday.  I challenge you to sit back, relax, and spend Groundhog Day 2016 merely pondering how much wood the woodchuck (a/k/a a groundhog) would chuck if he could chuck wood. And please–don’t eat the chuckling!