Monday, October 13, 2014

Stifling Change: Columbus Day and Thanksgiving

In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated at harvest-time, on October 12th, rather than a week before the first month of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. For the States south of Canada, whether their respective peoples are cold or warm on the third Thursday in November, the holiday’s date is etched in stone, given the illustrious aura of the U.S. president who had enshrined the date in the midst of a horrendous war between the USA and CSA in the 1860s. Few people would dare even entertain the natural assimilation of Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day on October 12th. So, well after harvest in most of the States and bunched in with Christmas and New Years—effectively ridding the latter of any left-over enthusiasm—people in the States in the northern climes are consigned to stuff themselves like Turkey birds while the surviving natural turkeys shiver outside. Human nature itself may be hardwired against change, and the massive scale of modern political association may exacerbate the paralysis.

Early October in 2014, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to replace Columbus Day with “Indigenous People’s Day” as a city holiday, even though Columbus Day would still be celebrated locally as the federally-recognized holiday. Seattle councilman Bruce Harrell explained that he had co-sponsored the resolution because he believed that the city would not be successful in its programs and outreach to Indians until “we fully recognize the evils of our past.”[1] One local resident took offense at an Indigenous People’s Day “coming at the expense of what essentially is Italian Heritage Day.”[2] However, because Columbus was part of a Spanish expedition, Columbus Day is not “essentially” an “Italian Heritage Day.” Rather, the holiday remembers back to the time of Spanish power. It follows that the resistance to the change in Seattle was overblown.

The “indigenous People’s Day” label is itself problematic, as American Indians “only” came to the continent about 15,000 years ago—not long at all for a species that has been around for 1.8 million years. The thorny issues could be obviated simply by moving Thanksgiving from the crowded year-end field of holidays to October 12th at harvest-time in many of the States. That this change would seemingly ruin the “holiday season” as it has always been and undo the order penned by the iconic Abraham Lincoln pinning Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November suggests that the chances of moving the holiday are slim to nil even though having Thanksgiving so late (and so close to Christmas and New Year’s) is arguably suboptimal.  

Compounding the problem with effecting change in the U.S., the increasing political consolidation at the federal level stymies a societal change through legislative means because more political energy must be amassed. The “one size fits all” assumption does not help. Even though Seattle can safely contemplate two holidays on one day, the sheer possibility of Thanksgiving being in October in some States and in November in others would likely trigger fears of disunion.

 In the E.U., the subsidiarity principle urges that legislation be done at the lowest practicable level of political organization; in the U.S., the Tenth Amendment seeks to forestall political consolidation at the expense of federalism. As Seattle attests, Congress need not have such a choking power-monopoly on holidays, and Americans need not be so afraid and thus over-reactive as proposals see the light of day.

[1] Phuong Le, “Columbus Day in Seattle Replaced with a New Holiday,” Associated Press, October 6, 2014.
[2] Ibid.