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Why do we celebrate Columbus Day?

Was Christopher Columbus a hero, villain or both?

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We all know the rhyme, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," but why exactly do we celebrate Columbus Day?

In the United States, the day is honored to commemorate the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World on October 12, 1492.

But Columbus has been a target of scorn and resentment for Native Americans whose fortunes declined precipitously in the aftermath of his journey to the New World.

Columbus and his men are said to have brutalized people of the West Indies and enslaved others. Columbus supporters don't deny the mixed legacy, but many point out the national holiday is rooted in the notion that it serve as an opportunity to bring Italian-Americans, Native-Americans and others together.

Columbus Day was honored for hundreds of years, but did not become a federal holiday until 1937 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared it so after a campaign by the Knights of Columbus, according to History.com.

It was always celebrated on October 12 until 1971, when it was moved to the second Monday of the month.

Columbus Day is also considered to be a day that Italian-Americans celebrate their heritage. In the 18th century, Italian and Catholic communities held parades and religious ceremonies in the explorer's honor.

There has been a lot of controversy associated with the holiday. As a result, many communities have created alternatives because of its association with the colonization of America and the death of native people.

History.com reported that Dia de la Raza ("Day of the Race") is celebrated in Latin America as a celebration of Hispanic cultures diverse roots.

South Dakota celebrates Native American Day, and Discoverer's Day is celebrated in Hawaii to remember the arrival of Polynesian settlers.

In those communities that use the day to honor indigenous people, you can attend pow wows, watch tribal dances and learn lessons about Native American culture.

If you find yourself in an Italian-American community, expect parades, costumes and lots of Italian food.

Some other interesting Columbus Day facts, according to The Long Island Press, include:

--Before it was translated into English, Columbus' name was known as Chrisoffa Corombo.

--Columbus began sailing when he was 14 years old.

--Columbus was addicted to the drug opium.

--Columbus did not gain notoriety until after his death.

--Columbus' brother Bartholomew had the initial idea to sail across the ocean.

Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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