The Spanish Language Blog

Spain´s national holiday is very international

Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Americas on Oct. 12, 1492. This historic event marks an important change in the course of the history of the Western world, such as the long-standing contact between Europe and the Americas. The day is officially celebrated in different ways and has different names throughout much of Latin America, the United States and Spain.

Spanish law established the day as Fiesta Nacional de España, or the national day of Spain, although many Spaniards still call it Día de la Hispanidad, which was the former name of this holiday. The law further explains that the day is commemorated because it symbolizes the expansion of the Spanish language and culture beyond European borders. Spanish is spoken as a native language by 414 million people, only 46 million of whom live in Spain.

When the day was first celebrated in Spain in 1914, its original name was "Fiesta de la Raza," hoping to create a holiday celebrating the unity between Spain and Ibero-America. Just a few years later, Spanish priest Zacarías de Vizcarra suggested the change from the term raza to hispanidad. Indeed, celebrating Columbus' first voyage across the Atlantic, an event that launched the European conquest and colonization of the Americas, did not always inspire a sense of unity.

Oct. 12 is still known as Día de la Raza in some Latin American countries, including Mexico. Other Latin American countries, which have commemorated the day as el Día de la Raza, have changed the name in recent years to honor diversity or celebrate resistance to colonization. In Costa Rica, the day is known as Día de las Culturas (day of cultures), in Argentina it is Día del respeto a la Diversidad Cultural (day of respect for cultural diversity), in Venezuela Día de la Resistencia Indígena (day of indigenous resistance) and in Bolivia Día de la Descolonización (day of decolonization). In Cuba, this day is not celebrated.

Many U.S. states also recognize Oct. 12 as a holiday, where it is usually referred to as Columbus Day. But not always; views on how the day should be called change here as well. The state of South Dakota in the United States, for example, now celebrates Native American Day on the second Monday in October.

In 2010, the United Nations declared Oct. 12 as Spanish Language Day, to celebrate cultural diversity and to encourage the "equal use" of the UN's 6 official languages throughout the organization.

Oct. 12 is seen in different ways in the United States and Spanish-speaking countries and thus has been renewed many times throughout history. Today, Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world by native speakers and is spoken as an official or primary language in 21 different countries. 

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