Depending on where you live in the United States and who you work for, Columbus Day may be a paid day off, another statutory holiday, or no different from other Mondays.
Columbus Day, the second Monday in October, is one of the most celebrated incoherently US holidays. It is one of the 11 official federal holidays (12 in presidential inauguration years like this), which means federal workers get a paid day off and there’s no courier delivery. Because federal offices will be closed, so will most of the banks and bond markets that trade in U.S. government debt. The stock markets will remain open, however, as will most retailers and other businesses.
Beyond that, Columbus Day seems to fade as a widely observed holiday, having be under fire over the past decades from Native American advocates and others.
Given the lingering controversy over how and whether to recognize Christopher Columbus and his accomplishments, we felt it was time to take another look at the Columbus Day holiday – our first since 2019.
We have decided to focus on those states and territories that observe Columbus Day (or one of its substitutes) as an official holiday, which means state offices are closed and state employees benefit from a paid day off. Several other states have designated the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, or another name honoring Native Americans, without making it an official holiday.
Our primary sources for this position were the government administration, personnel and human resources websites, most of which display lists of official holidays. We supplemented these lists with reports on local observances, or lack thereof, of Columbus Day or its many alternatives.
For more information on the states that previously observed Columbus Day and when they changed or abandoned it, we turned to “The Book of States,” published by the Council of State Governments – again supplemented by media reports, historical essays and other sources.
Based on our review of state human resources websites and other sources, only 20 states, plus American Samoa and Puerto Rico, still call the second Monday in October Columbus Day and consider it a public holiday – which means government offices are closed and government employees have a paid day off. Two decades ago, 25 states and the District of Columbia considered Columbus Day a public holiday, according to the detailed “Council of State Governments” “State Book. “
Since the start of the 21st century, states have taken several different approaches to Columbus Day. California and Delaware gave up vacations altogether in 2009, with the latter trading floating vacations for state employees. Maine, New Mexico, and DC all renamed Indigenous Peoples Day in 2019. Colorado – the first state to designate Columbus Day as a public holiday over 100 years ago – renamed in 2020 to honor Françoise Xavier Cabrini, a Catholic nun and Italian immigrant who founded dozens of schools, hospitals and orphanages to serve poor immigrants and was canonized in 1946. In these four jurisdictions, the day is always an official (i.e. paid) holiday.
Since 1990, South Dakota has observed Native American Day as an official holiday the second Monday in October. Tennessee officially observes the day of Christopher Columbus, but on a completely different day: the governor can move and regularly shifts the observance to the Friday after Thanksgiving, to facilitate a four-day weekend. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands began to substitute Commonwealth Cultural Day for Columbus Day in 2006. And in Hawaii the day is known as Discoverers day, even if it is not – and cannot be according to the law – a official holiday.
Even places with official Columbus Day holidays sometimes give them alternate identities. The U.S. Virgin Islands, for example, officially observe Columbus Day but place much more emphasis on Friendship Day between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, which falls on the same day. In Alabama, the second Monday in October is also Native American Heritage Day (since 2000) and Fraternal day, a day in honor of Freemasons, Rotarians, Elks and other social and service clubs. Columbus Day doubles as Yorktown Victory Day, at least in Virginia. And Nebraska adopted last year Indigenous Peoples Day to coexist with Columbus Day.
Originally conceived as a celebration of Italian-American heritage, Columbus Day has become a federal holiday in 1937, in large part thanks to the lobbying of the Knights of Columbus. The holiday has been moved from October 12 to second Monday in October from 1971.
More recently, Native American groups and other critics have advocated changing the holidays to something else, citing the mistreatment of natives by Columbus and the legacy of European settlement his travels initiated. Several states (including Iowa, Vermont, Oregon and Texas) and dozens of cities (including Seattle, San Antonio, Houston and, last week, Boston) instead recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, but not as an official holiday.
Note: This is an update of an article originally published on October 14, 2013.