Depending on where you live and whom you work for, Columbus Day may be a paid day off or no different from any regular Monday.
Columbus Day is one of the most inconsistently celebrated U.S. holidays. It’s one of 10 official federal holidays, which means federal workers get the day off. And because federal offices will be closed, so will most banks and the bond markets that trade in U.S. government debt (though the stock markets will remain open).
Beyond that, it’s a grab bag. According to the Council of State Governments’ comprehensive “Book of the States,” only 23 states (plus the District of Columbia, American Samoa and Puerto Rico) give their workers Columbus Day as a paid holiday. Tennessee officially does so too, but curiously chooses to celebrate the occasion on a different day – the Friday after Thanksgiving. And for the first time this year, Columbus, Ohio will not observe its namesake’s holiday.
Since 1990, South Dakota has marked the second Monday in October as Native Americans’ Day, an official state holiday. In Hawaii, the second Monday in October is known as Discoverers’ Day, though it’s not an official state holiday. The U.S. Virgin Islands “observes” Columbus Day but emphasizes Virgin Islands-Puerto Rico Friendship Day – which falls on the same day. The Northern Marianas substituted Commonwealth Cultural Day for Columbus Day in 2006. And in Nevada and Iowa, statutes “encourage” the governor to issue an annual Columbus Day proclamation but do not designate it a legal holiday.
Nearly 100 years ago, Colorado became the first state to designate Columbus Day as a state holiday, largely due to the efforts of Angelo Noce, a first-generation Italian immigrant in Denver. The day spread, in large part as a celebration of Italian-American heritage; it became a federal holiday in 1937. It was moved from Oct. 12 to the second Monday in October starting in 1971.
But in recent years, Native American groups and other critics, citing Columbus’ own mistreatment of natives and the legacy of European settlement that his voyages initiated – have advocated changing the holiday to something else – perhaps “Exploration Day.” Minneapolis, Seattle and Tacoma, among other localities, celebrate Indigenous People’s Day instead.
Note: This post was updated on Oct. 8, 2018. It was originally published Oct. 14, 2013.