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Goodbye, Columbus

It's Thanksgiving as I write this — the holidays will inexorably assert themselves despite our (my) best efforts to ignore them, every year like clockwork (or calendarwork, really) — and it occurs to me that this is the one holiday containing built-in instructions for its celebration right in the title: Give thanks, it says. And while many people do engage in a perfunctory round of thanks-giving at table, it's really more “Big Dinner With Family And Get Ready For Christmas Day.”

Speaking of which, we could more appropriately rename that one “Spend, Spend, Spend,” then New Year's, “Drink 'Til Stupid.” Fourth of July becomes “Fireworks And Watermelon,” and everything else falls under the heading of “Think About Certain Dead People.”

As I understand it, the British celebrate something called “Bank Holiday Monday” several times a year and it just means everyone gets a day off without having to pretend to honor something or someone they don't care about. This seems more sensible and honest to me. It's not that we don't care about Dr. King or our veterans, because we do. But the important thing about holidays is being able to sleep in. A nice way to honor veterans, rather than a parade and a day off, might be to provide them with adequate medical and psychological care to address the trauma they've suffered in service to the country. And I daresay that the good Dr. King might be more pleased by a country that stopped discriminating against minorities than a bunch of ghetto avenues and elementary schools named in his honor.

I wholeheartedly agree with the decision to strip Columbus of the same honor afforded to our laborers and veterans — it's really quite impossible to overstate the importance of genociding the indigenes in the establishment of European hegemony in the New World, but it's in poor taste to boast about it. Isn't rescinding the holiday a case of tossing the baby out with the bathwater? Just slap someone else's name on there and give October back a much-needed respite. There is a rhythm and a pattern to American holidays that requires the Columbus Day spot.

Beginning there, with the onset of cold weather in most of the country, we get month-after-month back-to-back holidays right through February, bing bang bong. Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Day, President's Day. Then, a break as the sun returns and the crocuses poke their heads up out of the soil. Don't be greedy, folks, springtime is enough of a gift.

Then there's a holiday to usher in the summer, one in the middle to glory in it, and one to bid it farewell. The spring months have been the accepted holiday drought for many years and asking Americans to suffer through a dreary-ass month like October without an extra day off is cruel, unusual, and therefore Unconstitutional. Perhaps some of you out there of an agitative bent currently banging your heads against the wall in quixotic quests to topple the government or whatever, could focus your energies on an attainable goal like re-establishing a firm October holiday in which no one has to do anything.

While I agree in principle with the possibility proposed of using the day to honor Native Americans, I also feel that any gesture short of packing up and heading back to the old country would be a meaningless sop to the few pockets of Native culture we've graciously allowed to continue living, and an insult besides.

If we must perpetuate the fiction that we need a good reason to take a well-deserved day off once in a while, besides its own intrinsic value, how about honoring someone still alive who can appreciate the gesture? Judge Judy Sheindlin, Weird Al Yankovic, and Pat Sajak were all born in October, and all three have likeability quotients exceeding Columbus's, about whom feelings range from indifference to outright hatred, excepting the New York Italian-American community who seem to venerate and revere him for some reason and to whom I say: fuhgeddaboutit.

Of course, the problem with live people is that they eventually and inevitably become less so, and more deadish, in the case of Her Honor probably sooner rather than later.

No problem. Judge Judy Day then becomes Weird Al Day, and when he succumbs Pat Sajak Day, then Elisabeth Shue Day, and etc. and so on.

It's not like there'll ever be a shortage of people born in October, it being nine months after January, a month of typically colder weather in the Northern Hemisphere and therefore given to a marked uptick in procreational relations, according to a study I recently imagined.

Okay, so the goal is to have that worked out by next year when I'm back in the workforce and needful of that bonus day to assuage the autumnal doldrums, so press on, you activists, you marchers in the street, you righters of wrongs and curers of ills.

Meanwhile, though, here we are fully embroiled in the very heart of the season, the point at which holiday stress peaks and many ordinary folks succumb to homicidal impulses, for which they must be forgiven. I mean, consider the circumstances. You've just successfully negotiated a holiday — really, four days of “Thanksgiving  weekend” — requiring planning, preparation, and significant cash outlay. Whether your house is the convergence point upon which family descends, not unlike locusts or other biblical plagues, or you travel cross-town, -state, or -country for the privilege of eating too much bland, mediocre, indifferently heated food and arguing with drunken relatives. You have endured it like a champ and emerged a better person for it, and according to general notions of fairness and the Geneva Convention you should be exempt from such madness for at least another year, but no-o-o-o. Barely a month away is the granddaddy of them all and if you only begin preparing once the Thanksgiving turkey's carcass is picked clean, you're already woefully behind and have set yourself up for some major-league stress and disappointment.

Smart people either began getting ready right after Groundhog Day or have wisely converted to one of the religions not invited to the party. It's true — there are many well-established and officially recognized faiths for whom December 25 is just another day, and I for one applaud their good sense. I don't know what the membership requirements are, or if there are any dues or fees, but if you're at the end of your holiday rope I'd say it's worth looking into.

Consider the ease, comfort, and simplicity of the erstwhile Columbus Day holiday, in which one had to do nothing but not make, sell, paint, repair, insure, improve, demolish, restore, market, advertise, display, decorate, franchise or electrify any widgets and only do whatsoever one's heart desired.

Oh, you could, if you felt the necessity of it, spare a thought for ol' Christopher out there plying the briny in his three doughty craft, on the way to riches and glory in the New World, but there was no need to recreate the voyage or anything absurd like that. There were no costumes to don or cards to send, no extravagant meals to prepare or rituals to perform; nothing was expected of us, and any way you chose to celebrate the day and honor the memory was exactly right.

Unless, of course, you are part of the aforementioned New York tribe, in which case you are expected to help stomp out any blacks or gays who might wander into the range of your little parade, which come to think of it is very much in keeping with the spirit of Columbus's mission.

Contrast this with the relentless stress and pressure of November and December and you'll realize that Thanksgiving and Christmas are not days off at all, but just a form of rigorously stylized, expensive, painful, and pointless recreation that makes one long for the comforting tedium of work. I'm not suggesting we abandon them, but just because it turns out Columbus was a bloodthirsty, self-serving, genocidal slaver, we have to suffer for it?

Maybe we take a closer look at the Pilgrims and this Jesus character, see what kind of skeletons they have in their closets. Maybe then Columbus doesn't look so bad and we can restore some equilibrium to the season by reinstating what was the one sensible holiday, unencumbered with any rigmarole or foofaraw.

I guess what I'm really trying to say here is, Happy Holidays. Best wishes of and best of luck with the season, may you emerge from it unscathed and stride forth confidently into the brave year 2018. I wish I was out there with you, making merry and sharing the burden, but this holiday season represents the last few grams of the pound of flesh I owe the state and they will demand their satisfaction. Oh well, fair's fair. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, everyone.

One Comment

  1. George Hollister December 13, 2017

    It is only fair to say that Christopher Columbus had no idea how transformative his discovery of America would become. The decimation of indians, he never knew or knew of, almost entirely by diseases he and those who followed him brought to the New World was only a part.

    The end of the Silk Road economy, the introduction of corn, potatoes, tobacco, and mined fertilizer to the world. The Columbian Exchange that mixed cultures, races, technology, and species like had never been seen. That continues today. Active competition between countries in Europe to establish colonies around the globe happened because of Columbus’s discovery of America. Europe came of age. This is a short list.

    So we can write off Columbus, for what ever reason, but we can not write off the reality that his discovery of the New World was the most transformative human event in the last two thousand years. Probably longer.

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