Highlights From The Comments On Columbus Day
[Original post: A Columbian Exchange]
1: The most popular comments were those objecting to my paragraph about holidays replacing older holidays:
All of our best holidays have begun as anti-holidays to neutralize older rites. Jesus was born in the spring; they moved Christmas to December to neutralize the pagan Solstice celebration. Easter got its name because it neutralized the rites of the spring goddess Eostre. Hanukkah was originally a minor celebration of a third-tier Bible story; American Jews bumped it up several notches of importance in order to neutralize Christmas.
Starting with Christmas, Retsam says that there are three main theories - Adraste’s plus two others:
1) March 25 + 9 months, 2) solstice symbolism, 3) co-opting paganism. (The earliest reference to this theory seems to be a millennium later in the 12th century)
Apparently the logic for March 25 is that it was calculated to be the day that Jesus died (easier to calculate since it was Passover), and Jewish tradition held that great people lived for exact, whole number of years. (i.e. were conceived and died on the same day)
This is somewhat convincing. But December 25 was literally the winter solstice on the Roman calendar (today the solstice is December 21st), and it really is suspicious that some unrelated method just happened to land on the most astronomically significant day of the year. Likewise, March 25 was the spring equinox, so the Annunciation date is significant in and of itself.
(I guess if you’re Christian you can believe that God chose to incarnate on that day because He liked the symbolism - although He must have been pretty upset when Pope Gregory rearranged the calendar so that it no longer worked).
Jesus died two days before Passover, but Passover is linked to the Hebrew calendar and can fall on a variety of Roman calendar days. So the main remaining degree of freedom is how the early Christians translated from the (Biblically fixed) Hebrew date to the (not very clear) Roman date. This seems to have been calculated by someone named Hippolytus in the 3rd century, but his calculations were wrong - March 25 did not fall on a Friday (cf. Good Friday) on any of the plausible crucifixion years. Also, as far as I can tell, the relevant Jewish tradition is that prophets die on the same day they are born, not the same day they are conceived. For example, Moses was born on, and died on, the 7th of Adar (is it worth objecting that it should be the same date on the Hebrew calendar and not the Roman?) Maybe this tradition was different in Jesus’ time? But it must be older than the split between Judaism and Islam - the Muslims also believe Mohammed died on his birth date.
So although the Annunciation story is plausible, it’s hard for me to figure out exactly how they got March 25 and December 25, and there’s room for them to have fudged it to hit the Solstice, either to compete with pagans or just because the astronomically significant dates were impressive in their own rights.
I guess I will downgrade to a 5% credence that competing with pagans was a significant factor in the date of Christmas.
Moving on to Easter. Russell Hogg writes:
You are entering a world of pain when you mention Eostre . . . https://historyforatheists.com/2017/04/easter-ishtar-eostre-and-eggs/ . We should have a ‘Debunk the Eostre Myth’ day. It’s already celebrated regularly by many people.
And Feral Finster adds:
Glad others decided to debunk that particular bit of midwit received wisdom. I get tired of doing so, over and over.
Looking at Hogg’s link, it mostly debunks the claim that Easter is related to Ishtar (which I agree is untrue), but moves on to discuss Eostre also. It points out that for a while the only known reference to a goddess Eostre was in the works of 8th century English historian Bede, who wrote:
Eostremonath has a name which is now translated Paschal month, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.” (Bede, De temporum ratione, XV)
The author of the link goes on to say that for a while Christians claimed that there was no other reference to this goddess and that it was just dumb New Atheists seizing on fake history - but then archaeologists found lots of other references, plus she is an obvious cognate with other goddess like Greek Eos, so probably she did exist and did give her name to Easter.
Aren’t eggs and rabbits more related to generic spring festivities than to Christ’s resurrection? The link argues that eggs make sense because eating eggs was banned during Lent, which meant there were lots of extra eggs to eat on Easter (the day Lent ended). Rabbits are just a generic spring thing, but probably not connected to Eostre in particular. Still, claims of a link aren’t just something some idiot New Atheist dreamed up one day - they actually come from the Grimm Brothers and other German folklorists who were postulating links between rabbits and the goddess Eostre as early as the mid 19th century. None of their reasons really sound convincing by modern standards - an unrelated goddess with hare symbology here, a few poorly-sourced quotes from peasants there - but they are surely the origin of this belief.
Still, I think the fact that Easter is currently named after Eostre, who was a real goddess celebrated at that time, and that Bede says it replaced her feasts, is enough to back the strictest interpretation of Adraste’s claim.
Moving onto Hanukkah - some commenters like odd anon question my description of it as coming from a Bible story. This isn’t going to get resolved here - Hanukkah comes from the Books of Maccabees, some of which are included in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox conceptions of the Bible, but not the Protestant or Jewish ones.
Other commenters have meatier objections. In response to the claim that American Jews signal-boosted Hanukkah to compete with Christmas, Falernum writes:
I was told something similar as a kid, but it's bullshit. Here's the thing about Hanukkah: there's two miracles. There's only one the rabbis accept, that the oil that was sufficient for one day lasted eight. And there's the miracle that the rabbis reject but most Jews feel in their bones: that we defeated the mighty Assyrians and won our independence.
Nobody remembers who decided to light that oil, or who ran to get new oil, but we all remember who led the fight: Judah "The Hammer" Maccabee.
The reason Hanukkah was a minor holiday in 1900 but large today has little to do with Christmas and everything to do with a resurgence of pride/relevance in the idea of a Jewish militia miraculously defeating a much larger army to win independence.
Thus, note that in Israel Hanukkah is a Big Deal holiday, while Christmas is observed mostly by tourists/pilgrims. There exist Christians in Israel, slightly more than there are Druze, but certainly not enough that Jewish kids feel they're missing out. Hanukkah has become a big holiday there on its own merits.
I am willing to accept that Hanukkah got signal-boosted for different reasons in the US vs. Israel, but I think I am right about the US. Wikipedia says:
In North America, Hanukkah became increasingly important to many Jewish individuals and families during the latter part of the 20th century, including a large number of secular Jews, who wanted to celebrate a Jewish alternative to the Christmas celebrations which frequently overlap with Hanukkah. Diane Ashton argues that Jewish immigrants to America raised the profile of Hanukkah as a kid-centered alternative to Christmas as early as the 1800s. This in parts mirrors the ascendancy of Christmas, which like Hanukkah increased in importance in the 1800s. During this time period, Jewish leaders (especially Reform) like Max Lilienthal and Isaac Mayer Wise made an effort to rebrand Hanukkah and started creating Hanukkah celebration for kids at their synagogues, which included candy and singing songs. By the 1900s, it started to become a commercial holiday like Christmas, with Hanukkah gifts and decorations appearing in stores and Jewish Women's magazines printing articles on holiday decorations, children's celebrations, and gift giving. Ashton says that Jewish families did this in order to maintain a Jewish identity which is distinct from mainline Christian culture, on the other hand, the mirroring of Hanukkah and Christmas made Jewish families and kids feel that they were American. Though it was traditional for Ashkenazi Jews to give "gelt" or money to children during Hanukkah, in many families, this tradition has been supplemented with the giving of other gifts so that Jewish children can enjoy receiving gifts just like their Christmas-celebrating peers do. Children play a big role in Hanukkah, and Jewish families with children are more likely to celebrate it than childless Jewish families, and sociologists hypothesize that this is because Jewish parents do not want their kids to be alienated from their non-Jewish peers who celebrate Christmas.
But also, use common sense. US celebrations of Hanukkah are centered around gift-giving - not a traditional part of the holiday at all. Some families put up blue-and-white “Hanukkah lights”; others have a “Hanukkah bush” in their house. Most Jewish children know lots of Hanukkah songs that sound suspiciously like Christmas carols. I don’t think we’re exactly hiding what we’re doing here!
2: Other people objected that I was wrong to say Columbus was an evil genocidal slaver. Vizcacha writes:
A, B, and C seem to accept as a given that Columbus was a horrible, vicious person. This may be the case, but nearly all of the horrible things he supposedly did were reported by a single source, a Spaniard named Francisco de Bobadilla who was sent (in 1499) to evaluate how things were going. Most of his negative information was supplied by enemies of Columbus. Needless to say, there is a great deal of back and forth controversy about the truth of Bobadilla's assertions.
Columbus was probably no worse than your average adventurer in terms of evil. What he is celebrated for is opening the "new world" to the "old world," and vice versa. He found it and publicized it. It was one of the most consequential events in the last thousand years. That puts him way ahead of anyone else in the explorer league. If his voyage and exploration had ended like Leif Ericsson's, we would not celebrate him.
Spooky Reverence on the Discord channel adds:
So, for an example. Here’s the most-cited quote of Columbus’ to support the idea he engaged in sexual slavery:
> A hundred castellanos [a unit of currency] are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid.
Looks pretty bad, right? Fuller context:
> The maintenance of justice and the extension of the dominion of Her Highness has hitherto kept me down. Now that so much gold is found, a dispute arises as to which brings more profit, whether to go about robbing or to go to the mines. A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid. I assert that the violence of the calumny of turbulent persons has injured me more than my services have profited me; which is a bad example for the present and for the future. I take my oath that a number of men have gone to the Indies who did not deserve water in the sight of God and of the world; and now they are returning thither, and leave is granted them.”
The more I look into it, the more it’s like this. Something he’s criticizing becoming portrayed as something he’s endorsing…rather than commending sexual slavery, he is saying that he has had trouble bringing degenerate sex slavers to heel.
It looks like I (or Adraste) was also wrong or at least on thin ice about Columbus cutting off the hands of Indians who didn’t give him enough gold - see here for details. Columbus did (by his son’s admission) punish Indians who did not give him enough gold, in some unspecified way. And hand-cutting was used as a punishment for insufficient-gold-tribute elsewhere in Spanish America. But there is no hard evidence that Columbus ever used this punishment himself - though punishing people who don’t give you gold after you take over their country seems pretty bad regardless of what the punishment was.
I cannot find anyone denying that Columbus promised the king and queen of Spain that he would provide them with lots of slaves, and did indeed raid the native villages of the Indies, capture many of them as slaves, and send 500 back to Spain (200 of whom died en route). He talks about doing this in his own letters, so I don’t think this one is a rumor spread by his enemies.
Was this “normal for his time”? I think somewhat. Wikipedia says:
Spain began to trade slaves in the 15th century and this trade reached its peak in the 16th century. The history of Spanish enslavement of Africans began with Portuguese captains Antão Gonçalves and Nuno Tristão in 1441. The first large group of African slaves, made up of 235 slaves, came with Lançarote de Freitas three years later. In 1462, Portuguese slave traders began to operate in Seville, Spain. During the 1470s, Spanish merchants began to trade large numbers of slaves. Slaves were auctioned at market at a cathedral, and subsequently were transported to cities all over Imperial Spain. This led to the spread of Moorish, African, and Christian slavery in Spain. By the 16th century, 7.4 percent of the population in Seville, Spain were slaves. Many historians have concluded that Renaissance and early-modern Spain had the highest amount of African slaves in Europe.
…but Columbus seemed pretty upset not to find much gold in the West Indies and seems to have slave-raided at an unusually intense level to compensate. I can’t tell what percentile of badness for a 15th-century explorer he was, but I’m guessing it’s >50th, and reading about some of the awful things he did it’s hard to care.
Still, I apologize for repeating the cut-off-hands rumor, and will add it to my Mistakes page.
Of course, there’s the broader issue - whatever Columbus did or didn’t do himself, he opened the way for Cortes and Pizarro and the eradication of native tribes in America and the series of epidemics and slave plantation systems that killed most of the natives alive in 1492. I’m reluctant to attribute this to Columbus (who didn’t do most of it, couldn’t have predicted most of it, and died before most of it happened), because then you would also have to credit Columbus for all the good things he caused in the far future that he couldn’t have predicted - like America inventing vaccines or helping win World War II. On the other hand, if we don’t credit him at all for things he couldn’t have predicted, we can’t credit him for discovering the New World at all (all he predicted was that he might reach Asia faster than usual) and he becomes an inconsequential figure. If we’re celebrating Columbus Day at all, then it has to be because we’re attributing downstream effects to him, in which case he had many downstream effects but these were (hopefully) overwhelmed by the good effects of the US and all other modern New World countries.
3: The third big controversy in the comments was whether Santa Claus was justified in punching Arius.
First things first - this story is probably fake. The first reference to St. Nicholas hitting someone at a council was a thousand years after his death. The story says he lightly slapped (rather than punched) an Arian heretic (rather than Arius himself). So this false-to-begin-with tale grew in the telling - but we’re talking holiday myths, so fine, let’s say Santa Claus punched Arius. Valjean writes:
Arius had it coming. The practice of punching those supposed church leaders who are his theological descendants should be normalized and celebrated.
Why? Remember, Arius is famous for claiming that God the Father created Jesus (and so Jesus was not the same as God, not an equal partner in the Trinity, not eternal, etc). How come people care about this 4th century dispute today? Some Christian commenters explain why this matters to them. Pope Spurdo writes:
The implications of Arianism for Mariology, which provides a sharp distinction between Catholicism/Orthodoxy and most Protestantism, are huge. If you're debating Mary's role in salvation, which we Catholics/Orthodox think is major and most Protestants don't (and which we fight about on the internet the way you fight about buying mosquito nets) you eventually run into the Christological answer given by Arius. If Jesus isn't fully God, then Mary can't be the mother of God, which we think is an important title, with a corresponding entitlement to special reverence.
Christianity without the divinity of Christ, as a person of the Triune God, is not Christianity. The highest-profile modern followers of Arian theology are the LDS and JW movements, which I'm grateful to note are pretty broadly acknowledged to be outside the pale of historic, Biblical Christianity. Confused, well-meaning adherents of these systems, I would engage warmly. Leaders who are actively seeking to lead more and more people astray with their anti-Biblical nonsense, I wouldn't mind seeing punched in some circumstances.
The issue at stake with Arius and at Nicaea was far greater than the sort of discussions [about wills vs. natures] which you reference there, Scott; simply put, the question was whether Jesus was himself divine, or whether he was a created being; like us, albeit greater. This is a point on which Scripture is emphatic, and it teaches that our salvation rests upon what we hold to be the historical event of Jesus, the eternal, uncreated Son of God, dying for the propitiation of His people's sin, and rising again to eternal life; an act effective only if carried out by the God-Man (to borrow a term). My associate there referenced the implications upon Mariology, but setting that area of (major) disagreement aside, there is firm agreement between we of the Reformed tradition and our Catholic brethren on the utmost importance of Christ's identity (indeed, one of the greatest expositions of all this came from the pen of St. Anselm of Canterbury).
Side note: if anyone should read this and think, "Oh, this ridiculous Trinity business again; how wearying", I would commend you Dr. Michael Reeves' book "Delighting in the Trinity", which is a clearer and more wonderful exploration than I would previously have thought possible.
Deiseach inevitably writes:
Ha, ha, ha, well you know - it's the tiny details that make all the difference. A lot of the early heresies were precisely that kind of very fine-grained theological exaltation, but it's a bit more vital than that - whatever Arius himself may have believed, it was the Christological doctrines of what came to be called Arianism that were important.
And that led to the kind of "99% of Christians wouldn't even know the difference" claims by its followers, who were really in a dominant position for a long time, who solved the problems of "how can Christ be God and man?" by adopting the solution that the Father alone was the eternal God, and the Son was created by Him, was not existing from all time, and though unique and exceptional, was more akin to one of the angels (this is a very simplified version) or was just an exceptional unique human who was elevated into being the Son of God (even more simplified version).
So if you have God who is God and alone, and then the special intermediary who is not (fully) God or a created (g)od, then you have the door into things like Islam - where Jesus is a great and venerated prophet, but not the Messiah or son of God, and Mohammed is the greatest and final revelation, or Unitarianism, or Mormonism (this is the really big deal about why Mormons are not considered Christians even though they say they follow Christ and accept the Bible and all the rest of it).
Imagine someone saying "Look, I don't get this squabble between you Jews and the Christians. Don't you all fundamentally believe the same things about God anyway? Who cares if this one guy was or wasn't the Messiah, heck you even have one sect of your guys who firmly believe their leader was the Messiah and you haven't declared them non-Jews! Why the continuing animosity over some incredibly obscure distinction?"
I would quibble that Jesus as the Messiah is not one of Jews’ top objections to Christianity, which I think would be first that it flirts with polytheism (the Trinity), that it flirts with idolatry (icons + Michelangelo-esque depictions of God), and that it says you don’t need to follow the Law. Other sects of Judaism that have “just” posited a Messiah (eg the subset of Lubavitchers who think Rebbe Schneerson was the Messiah) have met much less resistance.
Deiseach inevitably continues with a Chesterton quote:
The whole great history of the Arian heresy might have been invented to explode this idea. It is a very interesting history often repeated in this connection; and the upshot of it is in that in so far as there ever was a merely official religion, it actually died because it was merely an official religion; and what destroyed it was the real religion. Arius advanced a version of Christianity which moved, more or less vaguely, in the direction of what we should call Unitarianism; though it was not the same, for it gave to Christ a curious intermediary position between the divine and human. The point is that it seemed to many more reasonable and less fanatical; and among these were many of the educated class in a sort of reaction against the first romance of conversion. Arians were a sort of moderates and a sort of modernists. And it was felt that after the first squabbles this was the final form of rationalised religion into which civilisation might well settle down. It was accepted by Divus Caesar himself and became the official orthodoxy; the generals and military princes drawn from the new barbarian powers of the north, full of the future, supported it strongly. But the sequel is still more important. Exactly as a modern man might pass through Unitarianism to complete agnosticism, so the greatest of the Arian emperors ultimately shed the last and thinnest pretense of Christianity; he abandoned even Arius and returned to Apollo. He was a Caesar of the Caesars; a soldier, a scholar, a man of large ambitions and ideals; another of the philosopher kings. It seemed to him as if at his signal the sun rose again. The oracles began to speak like birds beginning to sing at dawn; paganism was itself again; the gods returned. It seemed the end of that strange interlude of an alien superstition. And indeed it was the end of it, so far as there was a mere interlude of mere superstition. It was the end of it, in so far as it was the fad of an emperor or the fashion of a generation. If there really was something that began with Constantine, then it ended with Julian.
But there was something that did not end. There had arisen in that hour of history, defiant above the democratic tumult of the Councils of the Church, Athanasius against the world. We may pause upon the point at issue; because it is relevant to the whole of this religious history, and the modern world seems to miss the whole point of it. We might put it this way. If there is one question which the enlightened and liberal have the habit of deriding and holding up as a dreadful example of barren dogma and senseless sectarian strife, it is this Athanasian question of the Co-Eternity of the Divine Son. On the other hand, if there is one thing that the same liberals always offer us as a piece of pure and simple Christianity, untroubled by doctrinal disputes, it is the single sentence, 'God is Love.' Yet the two statements are almost identical; at least one is very nearly nonsense without the other. The barren dogma is only the logical way of stating the beautiful sentiment. For if there be a being without beginning, existing before all things, was He loving when there was nothing to be loved? If through that unthinkable eternity He is lonely, what is the meaning of saying He is love? The only justification of such a mystery is the mystical conception that in His own nature there was something analogous to self-expression; something of what begets and beholds what it has begotten. Without some such idea, it is really illogical to complicate the ultimate essence of deity with an idea like love. If the moderns really want a simple religion of love, they must look for it in the Athanasian Creed. The truth is that the trumpet of true Christianity, the challenge of the charities and simplicities of Bethlehem or Christmas Day never rang out more arrestingly and unmistakably than in the defiance of Athanasius to the cold compromise of the Arians. It was emphatically he who really was fighting for a God of Love against a God of colourless and remote cosmic control; the God of the stoics and the agnostics. It was emphatically he who was fighting for the Holy Child against the grey deity of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He was fighting for that very balance of beautiful interdependence and intimacy, in the very Trinity of the Divine Nature, that draws our hearts to the Trinity of the Holy Family. His dogma, if the phrase be not misunderstood, turns even God into a Holy Family.
4: LHN on whether anyone actually cares about Columbus Day:
The size of Chicago’s Columbus Day parade and the continuing efforts to have the Columbus statue (removed in 2020) returned to its place of honor point to “Yes” on the sentiment question, at least for an influential community here.
Only four years ago, the local Italian-American community successfully resisted efforts to rename Balbo Drive, a street in a prominent location named after a prominent literal Fascist (an early leader of the party who built Mussolini’s air force and ran large parts of North Africa before being shot down, poetically, by Italian air defenses).
They may win or lose on the statue or Columbus Day in the long run (the statue at least hasn’t yet been returned) since there are competing interests at play. But their fervor clearly isn’t casual. And if 80-odd years of Blackshirts being non grata in the US hasn’t led to a deal renaming Balbo Drive after Monteverdi or something, I’m guessing it’ll be a while before the rather newer turn against Columbus makes a dent in their enthusiasm.
Several people (Aristides, Herbert Herbertson, Gordon Tremeshko) argue that this depends a lot on where in the US you live, and that in cities with a big Italian-American community Columbus Day is a really big deal. Meanwhile, I had to hear about Columbus Day approximately yearly in elementary school, and I was an adult before I learned (as a fun historical fact) that it was ever supposed to involve Italian-Americans at all.
In response to how much people in different parts of America knew or didn’t know about the Italian pride aspect of Columbus Day, Voyager wrote:
I (not American, mind) didn't know Columbus Day was a thing at all, and when Beroe brought it up, I thought it was an alternate history idea Scott had made up to set up a reversal test. I learned something today.
Who knows? Maybe this is all just extreme commitment to the bit!
5: Evariste writes:
> suppose we were to replace Christmas with another holiday that tested equally well in focus groups. It had just as much potential for holiday specials, provided just as much of an excuse to get together with family, even had delightful mythological characters who, starting ex nihilo, would have just as much appeal as Santa. Would you feel like something had been lost?
I have had weird feelings reading this. I am from Russia, and this precisely what has happened here (without focus groups though). In soviet era, Christmas was banned as too religious, and replaced with New Year celebrations (in the night from 31st of December to the 1st of January), which are as massive a holiday as Christmas is in the US. For New Year, families come together, decorate a spruce tree (which is called a New Year Tree rather than a Christmas Tree), and give each other presents which are supposedly distributed by Grandfather Frost, who is totally not Santa Claus despite being an old jolly bearded guy giving the presents. (He has evolved from the East Slavic mythology rather Cristianity, so while he was briefly banned, the soviet government was much less strict about that, as, in accordance with the post, they feared Pagan opposition much less than Christian opposition). And Christmas in Russia is mostly celebrated by people who are indeed religious.
And yes, in Russia we are kind of without tradition with regard to national holidays, because all the main ones are at most soviet-era old. The most popular are The New Year, The International Women's Day and the Day of Protectors of the Fatherland (Progressives in Russia have been to change the nature of both of them for years: to make the Women's Day more about feminism and awareness of Women's rights, rather than flowers, beauty and "We wish you to smile more and to be a decoration of your work team"; and to demilitarise the discourse around the Protector's day and just turn it into Man's Day, like it works in school, where girls give boys gifts for Protector's Day, and boys give girls gift for Women's Day), and the Labour Day and Victory Day (the has also been attempted to get demilitarised for years, to be turned from belligerent weapons demonstrations into a day of grief for those who have died in WWII, of whom there are a few in practically every Russian family history). So yeah, we live in a country with a short tradition of holidays, and there are lots of clashes around them.
Also, I have just read on Wikipedia that in Ukraine there is a movement to change the focus from New Year to Christmas again, because New Year is associated with the Soviet past. I don't have any personal evidence on whether this is true, however.
It seems that the Russian word for their amped-up New Year’s festival is “Novyi God”, which is an interesting kabbalistic correspondence. And Robert Jones writes:
As someone who lives in a country with "early May", "late May" and "August" holidays, I assure you that having figured out the optimal number of holidays, you don't need to go on to the next step of agreeing historical figures to celebrate. You can just have holidays there.
When I lived in Ireland I was creeped out by things like the May Bank Holiday. It felt too much like I was living in a dystopia. “Worker #4113, you and the rest of North West City get the May Bank Holiday off from your job at Nutrient Factory 87”. If you tried to pull that in America, we would revolt.
6: Chlopodo writes:
Nobody cares about *Columbus* for the sake of Columbus. I find the vilification of him every bit as annoying as the exaltation of him, since it always comes from people who clearly have no genuine interest in the history of the age of exploration, the conquest of the Antilles, or the Caribbean indigenes.
Personally I find Columbus interesting because he seems to have just been a WEIRD individual, psychologically. Late in his career, he started having a belief that he was chosen by God for some divine mission, which put off his Spanish contemporaries--they started calling him "pharaoh" and treated him as some discredited mad prophet. On his third voyage he discovered the mouth of the Orinoco River and concluded that it must flow from the Garden of Eden.
I have a mild interest in weird historical prophecies, and in this context I came across Columbus’ Book Of Prophecies, which he wrote late in his life. This actually touches on the Garden of Eden claim - Columbus believed that the Second Coming could not occur until the Garden of Eden was found. I don’t know how seriously to take his own self-presentation, but Columbus always presented himself as deliberately setting out to fulfill as many preconditions for the Second Coming as he could - for example, he said that he was looking for gold so he could enrich Spain to the point where it reconquered the Holy Land. New EA hero?
I have never been able to find a good online version of the Book of Prophecies, but one day I may cave and buy it from the bookstore - it is, after all, the only apocalyptic prophecy from someone with experience causing apocalypses.
7: Red Barchetta:
I haven't read the comments yet, but why must some authority "set" holidays in the first place? The best and most enduring holidays rise up organically from the culture and are simply formally observed by a government. I think this dialogue mixes what are really two types of holidays.
A good point. This got me thinking about whether we can still do the “decentralized organic coordination on having a new holiday” thing.
Maybe Pride Month is the clearest example of this working in the modern era, from back when gays were more persecuted and before it was endorsed by cities and corporations? The rationalists have also succeeded at this within their subcommunity in a smaller way - Petrov Day, Smallpox Eradication Day, and others have managed to sort of catch on, with maybe a few hundred people celebrating them yearly. Maybe this suggests that small tight-knit groups (gays were a small tight-knit group whenever Pride started) can still do this, and then sometimes they catch on? Maybe this is the only way organic holidays ever form?
My best counterexample is 9-11, which seems to have semi-organically become a nationwide day of remembrance, although realistically that seems to mostly involve newspapers publishing “It’s the somethingth anniversary of 9-11 today, never forget!”. Any more . . . exuberant . . . commemorations tend to be considered insensitive (eg this).
8: Albatross11 writes:
In practice, I'm glad Columbus showed up in America, because that led to my civilization existing and my nation existing and me existing, and I think all three of these are good things.
I think this brings up an important point: whether Columbus was good or bad for the world, he was presumably good for us (non-Native citizens of the US) and maybe we owe it to celebrate or at least commemorate our own progenitors regardless of their overall value. This seems to be the theory behind eg ancestor worship, Mother’s/Father’s Day, and the fact that America celebrates Washington’s Birthday but not eg Gandhi’s Birthday.
A possible counterexample: my family descends from various Jews who emigrated from Russia and Poland because of pogroms and then interbred. The people who sparked those pogroms (let’s say the Tsar) caused the current generation of my family to exist. Should we celebrate the Tsar, even though all he ever did was try to ruin our ancestors’ lives? And did Columbus - who really just wanted a quicker route to Asia plus maybe to find the Garden of Eden - really “aim at” creating America in any way more profound than the Tsar “aimed at” creating my family?
9: BBA on the Discord writes:
Many countries have some kind of holiday on October 12 but the US is the only one to call it "Columbus Day" in most of Latin America it's Dia de la Raza, celebrating the undeniable fact that Hispanics literally would not exist if not for October 12, 1492
Oooh, I like this one. Italians aren’t powerful enough to maintain their own holiday these days, so draw the Hispanics into the coalition. Columbus didn’t destroy indigenous peoples, he initiated their transformation into a more powerful form! We can ditch Cinco de Mayo (boring, unrelated to America, non-inclusive of non-Mexican Hispanics), save Columbus Day, and have an extra excuse to eat tacos. Let’s do it!