Working on Columbus Day? It depends on where your job is

 Depending on where in the United States you live and whom you work for, Columbus Day maybe a day off with pay, another holiday entirely, or no different from any other Monday.

Columbus Day, the second Monday in October, is one of the most inconsistently celebrated U.S. holidays. It’s one of 11 official federal holidays (12 in presidential inauguration years such as this one), which means federal workers get a paid day off and there’s no mail delivery. Because federal offices will be closed, so will most banks and the 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 be fading as a widely observed holiday, having come under fire in recent decades from Native American advocates and others.

How we did this
A map showing where state workers have the second Monday in October off

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 – meaning government offices are closed and state workers have a paid day off. Two decades ago, 25 states and the District of Columbia treated Columbus Day as a public holiday, according to the Council of State Governments’ comprehensive “Book of the States.”

Since the turn of the 21st century, states have taken several different approaches to Columbus Day. California and Delaware dropped the holiday entirely in 2009, the latter swapping in a floating holiday for state workers. Maine, New Mexico, and D.C. were all renamed the holiday Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2019. Colorado – the first state to designate Columbus Day as a state holiday more than 100 years ago – renamed it in 2020 to honor Frances 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 those four jurisdictions, the day is still an official (i.e., paid) state holiday.

A map showing states that have renamed Columbus Day to honor Indigenous peoples

Since 1990, South Dakota has observed Native Americans’ Day as an official state holiday on the second Monday in October. Tennessee officially observes Columbus Day, but on a completely different day: The governor can and routinely does move the observance to the Friday after Thanksgiving, to facilitate a four-day weekend. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands began substituting Commonwealth Cultural Day for Columbus Day in 2006. And in Hawaii, the day is known as Discoverers’ Day, though it isn’t – and by law can’t be – an official state holiday.

Even places with official Columbus Day holidays sometimes give them alternative identities. The U.S. Virgin Islands, for example, formally observes Columbus Day but puts much more emphasis on Puerto Rico-Virgin Islands Friendship Day, which just happens to fall on the same day. In Alabama, the second Monday in October is also American Indian Heritage Day (since 2000) and Fraternal Day, a day honoring Freemasons, Rotarians, Elks, and other social and service clubs. Columbus Day doubles as Yorktown Victory Day, at least in Virginia. And Nebraska last year adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day to coexist with Columbus Day.

Even Columbus, Ohio, no longer observes its namesake’s holiday, having renamed it Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2020 – though Columbus, Georgia, still does.

Originally conceived as a celebration of Italian American heritage, Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1937, largely due to lobbying by the Knights of Columbus. The holiday was moved from Oct. 12 to the second Monday in October starting in 1971.

More recently, Native American groups and other critics have advocated for changing the holiday to something else, citing Columbus’ own mistreatment of natives and the legacy of European settlement that his voyages initiated. Several states (including IowaVermontOregon, and Texas) and dozens of cities (including SeattleSan AntonioHouston, and, just last week, Boston) recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead, though not as an official public holiday.

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