City Hall Still Observes Columbus Day, For Some Reason

Chances are you’re working today, which happens to be a Monday, unless you’re a local government employee. Because it's Columbus Day!

Quick question, though: Why do the city of San Jose and Santa Clara County still celebrate Columbus Day? Isn't Christopher Columbus' legacy considered more of an unwelcome invasion than a grand "discovery"? Over the years it's been relegated to a second-tier holiday in which the majority of workers are expected to work, as usual, yet San Jose and its parent county holds fast.

Columbus Day has been called “the strangest of American holidays,” the least-liked and least-respected, a commemoration of an egomaniac who wouldn’t ask for directions and launched a centuries-long chapter of cultural genocide.

While only about a third of organizations close for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day, and 22 percent for Veterans Day, 14 percent still give employees the day off for Columbus Day. Many schoolchildren get the day off as a holiday, forcing parents to scramble to find childcare because they still have to work.

Except for essential city services like police and fire, San Jose's City Hall is off for the day. Customer service calls will go to voicemail and be handled Tuesday. The call center extends service hours the day after holidays to deal with the higher-than-usual volume of inquires.

But elected officials have it even better than most. Not only do they get today off, they also table regularly scheduled City Council meetings until the following week. Columbus Day festivities—whatever those are—apparently soak up too much agenda study time.

Fortunately for San Jose State University students, who don’t get a break from class, San Jose’s flagship Martin Luther King Jr. Library will remain open. All other city library branches will be closed and resume regular hours Tuesday morning.

Community centers are also closed, and bill payments for things like garbage service can be deposited in a drop box at City Hall’s Sixth and Santa Clara street entrance. But they will not be processed.

As a bone, at least metered parking is free today.

A Mercury News column over the weekend defended Columbus Day, and the statue of the Italian explorer on display in the City Hall lobby, arguing that Italians have had “a profound effect” on the city. But the private sector, schools, state and federal government agencies remain divided about what to do regarding Columbus Day—indicating that the holiday may be on its way out.

Berkeley reinvented the holiday as Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992. Seattle and Minneapolis followed suit this past year. Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska ignore Columbus Day altogether. And for the past 24 years, South Dakota has instead celebrated Native Americans Day.

The statue of Columbus in the City Hall lobby hasn't stood without controversy either. Thirteen years ago, activist James Cosner smashed it with a sledgehammer in front of a dozen witnesses.

"If you knew the history of Christopher Columbus from an indigenous person's point of view, you'd know that having a statue of him in a public place is like having a statue of Hitler in Jerusalem," he said.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. We are here working at the City of Milpitas, all offices open for business including the City Clerk’s office. Come on in till 5:00 PM today Monday, October 13.

    Mary Lavelle
    Milpitas City Clerk

  2. A great day for kids and seniors to head to their local branch library to pick up a book or a couple of DVDs. BUT NO! Our public “service” library employees get the day off…with pay. On the other hand, it’s one day our elected officials can do no more harm.

    • …a day when legitimate library patrons can avoid going to the hallowed ground and be assaulted with the sights and smells of the weirdo’s surfing taxpayer funded computers for all sorts of unmentionable filth… not such a bad thing of course if your local is closed and you miss that activity the main library is open.

  3. “…Quick question, though: Why do the city of San Jose and Santa Clara County still celebrate Columbus Day? It would be more historically accurate to refer to Columbus’ legacy as an unwelcome invasion than a grand “discovery”? Over …”

    From the recently published SJI/Metro Style Book: It is perfectly legitimate to pose a question then answer the question according to the author or parent media outlet’s institutional perspective and end punctuate said statement with a “question mark” (?)…

    Note to the Silicon Valley Newsroom: San Jose, Santa Clara County is a part of the USA… Berkeley and any other locale that wants to “reinvent” holidays to its own skewed beliefs can do what ever they want for the same reason… doesn’t change the fact that Columbus Day is still Columbus Day.

    on that note HAPPY COLUMBUS DAY! and Josh you can relax knowing that you wont get tagged for not feeding your meter- today.

  4. Too many BS holidays, pretty soon all city and federal workers will have 3 DAY WORK WEEKS. Don’t make me list all the holiday and other days. We are running out of days! Why not just give all employees the first day of the month off and raise our already out of control city, county, state and federal taxes.

  5. > City Hall Still Observes Columbus Day, For Some Reason

    Here’s a reason, which you no doubt missed:

    Columbus Day commemorates an important milestone in the history of Western Civilization: the discovery of America, or at least the discovery of a place lucky enough to become America.

    You know, America: that civilization that freed mankind from an existence of subsistence hunting and gathering (a.k.a, “poverty”) and tribal warfare ( even though there are still many tribalists living in America who cling to their tribalism and their warfare).

    • Please go back to your place of living with your ballot which you stated you will not vote. You do realize that is what America is about, a free country, that allows all non convicted felons to vote.

  6. For all the imbeciles who wish to celebrate the indigenous lifestyle I have news for you: the time for doing that, which ran for about 10,000 years, ended about five hundred years ago. That’s when time ran out for a race of people who’d enjoyed the unparalleled protection of two great oceans, a people who’d bred only with their own kind, a people who were never forced to compete with the advances and innovations produced by foreign cultures, a people for whom technological stagnancy had never been synonymous with immanent peril.

    The hellish existence introduced to Native Americans over the last five centuries of conquest was not the product of Europeans or any other particular people, it was the product of human nature — like it or not, and every ugly facet of that nature was just as much a part of indigenous life as it was elsewhere. Native Americans engaged in ethnic cleansing, murder, rape, slavery, theft, lying, and cheating long before white man arrived, they just didn’t have any foreigners to victimize.

    The isolation that blessed their ancestors with relative stability left post Columbian Native Americans technologically backward and extremely vulnerable to contagions. They were sitting ducks, and had Cristoforo Columbo never been born someone else, perhaps a Russian, would’ve planted a foreign flag in this hemisphere and started the Native Americans on their inevitable march toward extinction. Denigrating Columbus is not correcting the historical record, it is simply choosing a convenient white man to hate for an episode of history that fate had decided long before the great navigator was born. But, of course, this is what liberals do: they think stupid thoughts and then find a white guy to demonize.

  7. THe over/under on the percentage of those who get Columbus Day off are government employees is 85%.. I’ll take the over.

  8. Why are you bashing Columbus? He is a significant part of our history. You people are un-American and should be ashamed of yourself. Attempting to change history to meet your agenda? Fools. He had more of an impact on our history than MLK. With all due respect to MLK.

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