“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

That rhyme helps people remember that the year, 1492, was when Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain to America.

Some people believe we should have a holiday called Columbus Day, and some people think we should not honor Columbus, but the native people who were already living here when he landed. They want to have a holiday called Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

(If you say the words “in fridge; in us” fast, it rhymes with indigenous.)Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, in the year 1451. We don’t know the exact month or day.It used to be taught, even in schools, that Columbus wanted to prove the Earth was round, and that’s why he sailed across the ocean.That’s not true. Educated people in Europe back in the 1400s didn’t believe the Earth was flat. They didn’t think that if you sailed too far, your ship would fall off the edge. They knew, and Columbus knew, the Earth was round.Countries in Europe; like Spain, Portugal, Italy, and England; wanted to buy things from Asia, such as spices, dyes, fruits, silk,  and other exotic goods. But getting there and back was a long, hard, and often dangerous trip, mostly over land. If the Earth was round, couldn’t you get to Asia by sailing west across the ocean? Columbus felt this was possible.What he didn’t know is how far would you have to sail to get there? And how dangerous would it be? Maybe a ship would run out of food and water before arriving. Maybe there would be storms too powerful to survive. Maybe there would be sea creatures that would destroy the ship.The only way to find out, Columbus believed, was to go. He said, “You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”He knew how to navigate at sea using the sun and the stars.Though he was a very experienced sailor – he had learned to sail when he was 14, and he was now 41 – no one wanted to give Columbus the money for ships, crew, and food. King John II of Portugal, was among those who told him no. Finally, he convinced Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain to give him money for the voyage.He got three ships for his journey. Two were smaller, faster ships called caravels. They were named the Pinta and the Niña. The third ship was larger and was called the Santa Maria.He had trouble hiring a crew. Most sailors thought it would be a dangerous, one-way trip, and were afraid to go. But finally he got enough crewmen, along with water and food. He set sail on August 3, 1492.The voyage was long and hard. There were times when the crew wanted to turn back. There were times when everyone got sick with scurvy from not having enough fruits and vegetables to eat. But Columbus wouldn’t quit. And finally on October 12, after two months at sea, they found land.They thought they had landed on an island in the East Indies in Asia. Maybe near India or Malaysia or Indonesia. Where they actually were, was on an island in the Bahamas off the coast of what is now Florida.On October 29, they reached what today is called Cuba. And on December 6, the island of Hispaniola, where they built a fort.Because Columbus thought they must be near India, he called the people who lived on those islands, Indians.Columbus sailed back to Spain, taking with him exotic birds, plants, cloth, and gold. He also took several of the native people.Ferdinand and Isabella were so happy with this discovery, they provided Columbus with 17 ships and 1,300 men for a second voyage. And thus began the exploration and conquering of the New World.Columbus died on May 20, 1506, in Valladolid, Spain.Many people think it is proper to honor Columbus for his bravery and daring and for his discovery of an unknown land.Others think the honor should go, not to the invading conquerors from Europe, but to the native peoples whose lands and lives were taken from them.Since 1971, the second Monday in October has been an official federal holiday known as Columbus Day.On October 8, 2021, President Joe Biden proclaimed that Columbus Day would continue to be a federal holiday, but that, in addition,  October 11 would be recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.Fun Facts•  Columbus made a total of four trips to the New World and back.•  His actual name in Italian is Cristoforo Colombo, but we know him by the English version of his name.•  About 500 years before Columbus discovered the New World, a Norse explorer named Leif Erikson landed in what is now known as Canada. But his discovery didn’t result in more Europeans coming here the way that Columbus’s did.•  When Columbus died, he still believed he had landed on the east coast of Asia, not some new land.

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