Columbus Dazed

Mattress Firm Columbus Day sale!

15-to-50 percent savings store wide at Sears!

I can also get (This weekend only!) used cars at cost and deals on new tires, flat screen TVs and home improvement materials – presumably so I can get into the spirit of the holiday by building a settlement somewhere in Chris’ honor. The more upscale Macy’s also has a Columbus Day sale, though at least they are trying to be moderately authentic: this weekend only, the perfume ladies will spray you with your choice of Caribbean spices.

I even received a personal email offer for a Columbus Day mystery offer where you could either shop on-line or use a supplied coupon code to take to a real store. I’ll admit the online aspect was clever: ‘Mystery sail (sic) – You could save up to 75% off this weekend only!’ Click on the animated (ship) compass to find your savings at checkout!

Pretty involved (and dignified) way of selling underwear, methinks.

On the more obscure end of American marketing scale for C-Day are grocery stores: great timing for those ubiquitous Columbus-themed holiday gatherings. (“I know Columbus was big into genocide, but he brought back lots of new spices and stuff that we still use today. Hey! Pass me some more of those ribs, will ya”?) And, of course, liquor stores.

The booze sales I can see as having some sort of actual relationship to ’celebrating’ Columbus as he had to have been heavy into some bad ale to get as off-course and lost as he was, then still thinking he was where he definitely wasn’t when he arrived.

The designated navigator was not en vogue in Columbus’ day.

The reality is, Columbus never even set foot in what is now the United States. Yet, we celebrate him – though to be honest, nobody I know still gets Columbus Day off. To my knowledge, no local schools are off, all banks are open. Mail will still be delivered and the sun will continue to rise in the east.

What was, when I was a kid, a day off from school in commemoration of the guy who ‘discovered’ America is now devoted to big savings on a plethora of consumer goodies. Apropos, in a way, as Christopher Columbus has turned out to be little more than a lost, greedy merchant who would probably be right at home in today’s consumer driven culture. (“Hey, Chris! Great deals at Best Buy on GPS units!”)

Nowadays, it seems like Columbus ‘Discover carded’ America.

I know, we do the same commercialize-it-because-its-what-we-do thing for President’s Day, though in that case, we still, on some level, actually attempt to honor people who had some value to/in American history and culture. Though even that has been diminished. While we used to celebrate the B-days of Washington and Lincoln separately, since the Nixon administration, we have but one holiday that goes by the moniker ‘President’s Day’ and is, technically, ‘to commemorate all past presidents’ which is a lot like the entire senior class as co-valedictorians because none of them got suspended during the year.

Personally, I could never sleep easy on a new mattress I got at a Millard Fillmore sale.

Aside from the Columbus Day orgy of illogical, misplaced retailing I do have a more personal axe to grind here.  Why we ‘honor’ Christopher Columbus, a guy who ‘discovered’ something that was in no need of being discovered (per the peoples that had been there for centuries before white European guys with poofy pants and ill-tempered cruise directors landed on their shores) and not the true first European explorer to show up and say, “Hey, this place is cool. How are you indigenous folks doing?”

I am of course, referring to Leif Erikson.

(In the interest of full disclosure here, I am myself, proudly of Nordic blood and heritage. Am I completely without bias? Yeah, mostly.) So Leif and his band of roaming Scandinavians (‘Vikings’ if you prefer) showed up in North America around the year 1000 – nearly a full half-millennium  before Columbus – in present-day Newfoundland. There, he and his posse poked around a bit in the name of exploration and interacted peacefully with the locals, apparently preferring just hangin’ with his new-found homeys over conquering them and grabbing all their stuff.

Leif is described as a strong man of striking appearance, who was wise and considerate.

Leif was a cool dude. After he chilled for a while in Newfoundland (catch name, eh?) he went back to his home base in Greenland, and then his homeland of Iceland, where his folks settled after leaving Norway, the ancestral land of some of my forefathers. Leif eventually roamed back toward Canada, may or may not have been there again, but he did end up evangelizing, bringing Christianity to Greenland, probably on a hut-to-hut basis, sans fliers.

Subsequent Scandinavian forays into the ‘New World’ by Leif’s son and others did result in some skirmishes with the indigenous folk of the region, but they enslaved nobody and left pretty quietly.

And yet, we have no sales in Leif’s honor, no discounts to be had at haberdasheries or hotels, no deals to be made in his name on electronics or vehicles. Which is probably as it should be. While Leif and the boys certainly engaged in trade, their primary purposes appear to have been simply exploration and subsistence, with no grandiose plans of empire and enslavement. There is no small irony in celebrating Christopher Columbus the way we do, and in remembering Leif Ericson the way we really don’t.

Tuesday, October 9, is Leif Ericson Day. I’ll probably commemorate the day by quaffing a glass of grog in his honor, and I won’t be buying a damn thing.

Even Spongebob Squarepants gets it!


5 thoughts on “Columbus Dazed

  1. kayroseland October 6, 2012 / 3:07 pm

    Half Milenium


  2. slpmartin October 6, 2012 / 4:10 pm

    I’m certain there are a number of native Americans who would agree with you strongly.


  3. oncealittlegirl October 7, 2012 / 2:26 pm

    “Lief” peeping is a popular October pass time. That seems like a great way to honor the Viking, so comfortable in cold weather. Or perhaps a “sail” on electric blankets.


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