Letter to the editor: The significance of Columbus Day

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By Isabelle C. Chang

To the Editor:

We usually celebrate on Oct. 12 to honor Christopher Columbus who first set foot on the soil of the New World in 1492. Although no one realized its tremendous significance at that time, October 12, 1492 was a great day in history. From that day forward, half the world previously unknown to Europeans now lay opened to exploration and colonization.

In those early days, explorers tried to reach the East by sailing around Africa to the south. Some people kept wondering if there wasn’t a shorter and better route. Many scholars believed the ancient geographers who advocated that the world was round. “If there is so then one should be able to reach the East by sailing west,” they reasoned.

One man who believed this theory wholeheartedly was a Genoeve named Christopher Columbus. But no matter how great was his belief, he needed ships and men to carry out his dream. But the king of Portugal to whom he applied refused him help, so he turned to Queen Isabella of Spain, who with King Ferdinand, finally financed his project. With their money, he recruited 88 sailors and chartered three ships named the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.

This small fleet set forth on August 3, 1492. First Columbus headed south toward the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. He headed from the Canary Islands, as the winds blew steadily westward now known as the “trade winds.” The westward voyage was smooth, so on they sailed for a month.

Gradually, the men became discouraged and fearful when their food supply dwindled and still they saw no land. However, Columbus himself never faltered. With only a compass and knowledge of the stars for guidance, he was certain that he was in the right direction. Then he tried to calm the men down, but after another week of endless water, the men were more discouraged than ever. There was some bad talk about Columbus’ madness behind his back.

Suddenly, at 2 a.m., on October 12, 1492, under a bright moon, a lookout shouted, “Land, ho!”

At dawn they went ashore. Columbus claimed the land for Spain, naming it San Salvador. It is now called the Watlings Island in the Bahamas.

Columbus was certain it was an island off the coast of India. The natives he found there he assumed were Indians. He looked for the mainland but found only more islands. When supplies were very low, he returned to Spain. He reported to the Queen and King that he had reached the east and had found India. New spread like wildfire throughout Europe. Soon many explorers were sailing westward.

Columbus made three more trips. He still believed he had reached the coast of India. But he was wrong. Only after his death did the greatness of his discoveries become known. Columbus had discovered not one but two continents.

Columbus Day was first observed in New York on Oct. 12, 1792 and now all over the United States and other countries as well.

Isabelle Chang
Shrewsbury