Why is Wednesday 12 October a public holiday in Spain

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The discovery of America in 1492 had far-reaching consequences, and October 12 is considered a memorable day because contact between Europe and America began from that moment. This culminated in the so-called “meeting of two worlds”. A meeting that profoundly changed the visions of the world and the lives of both Europeans and Americans. The discoveries set in motion the European colonization of North and South America.

On September 23, 1892, Queen Regent María Cristina de Habsburgo-Lorena issued a royal decree in San Sebastián, at the suggestion of President Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, declaring October 12, 1892 a national holiday to commemorate the discovery of America.

Often people in Spain also refer to Día de la Hispanidad when referring to this day. For many others, it’s just ‘not done’. That name has been assigned to the day by official decree during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. However, the concept of “Hispanidad” has been promoted since the beginning of the 20th century by the writer and ideologue of a reactionary school of thought Ramiro de Maeztu. In 1931, he published an article in the magazine ‘Acción Española’ defending the use of the term Hispanidad: “The 12th of October, with a wrong heading for the day of the race (Día de la Raza), would henceforth be the day for the Spanish to be inheritance.

National holiday, a democratic expression

The advent of democracy also meant a revision of all national celebrations, as well as their terminology. Finally, a law from 1987 stipulates that October 12 is celebrated as Spain’s national holiday and since then the term ‘Día de la Hispanidad’ has officially been completely abolished and is only used in everyday speech.

Celebrating cultural diversity

Over the years, the emphasis has shifted from the Spanish Empire following Columbus’s explorations to celebrating the cultural diversity and bond between all Latin American countries and peoples. As it is a national holiday, most Spaniards have the day off. This year the holiday falls on Wednesday, which means there is no long weekend (puente) associated with it. If Día de la Hispanidad falls on a Thursday or Tuesday, many also take Friday or Monday off.

Military parade in Madrid

The most distinctive feature of the celebration of the Fiesta Nacional de España is the military parade traditionally held in Madrid, with which Spain demonstrates its military prowess. The parade brings together several units from, among others, the armies, the navy, the military emergency unit (UME), the Guardia Civil and the National Police in an action led by the King and Queen of Spain.

King Felipe VI, his wife Queen Letizia, their children, infant Leonor and Sofie and the Spanish Prime Minister are present at this military show of force. The parade through Madrid usually also includes foreign diplomats and representatives of the governments of the 17 autonomous communities.

Traditionally, the parade starts on October 12 at 11 a.m. on Paseo de la Castellana. The King arrives early at the Plaza de Lima, where he receives military honors and assesses the various troops before greeting the authorities present. Then a soldier descends by parachute with the Spanish flag in his hands. That flag is then raised and finally the tribute to the fallen takes place.

Following this protocol, it is army aircraft that make way for the parade. Thus begins the land and flyover that runs along Paseo de la Castellana from Plaza de Cuzco to Raimundo Fernández Villaverde. The live broadcast can be followed from ten o’clock on La 1 de TVE.

Outside of Madrid, each city organizes its own celebrations dedicated to Spain and the Spanish-speaking world. Usually the official part of this takes place in the square in front of the local town hall.

Catalonia beats Spain

Despite the controversy surrounding this holiday in lopsided Catalonia, where part of the population strives for independence from Spain, events have also been organized here. Nevertheless, a demonstration is also being held, supported by the parties Vox, PP, Ciudadanos and Valents, as well as other civil society organizations. The demonstration starts at 11:30 and will depart from the intersection of Provenza and Paseo de Gracia streets in the direction of Plaza de Cataluña.

Here is a meeting at 13.00 with speeches from those who organized the demonstration. The organization “Catalonia strikes for Spain” is also celebrating the tenth anniversary of its activities on the occasion of National Day. “On a date like October 12, the National Day of Spain and the Spanish heritage, we claim our celebration in the streets of the Catalan capital, on the real national day of the Catalans. A day of brotherhood with the rest of the Spaniards and with everyone from all Latin American countries ,” the organization said in a statement.

On the other hand, several organizations have prepared actions against the celebration of Día de Hispanidad.

Columbus

On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus anchored off the coast of America. At the time, the explorer did not know that he had discovered a new continent. He was under the impression that he had arrived at ‘Las Indias’, the intended destination of his journey, by a western route. It turned out to be the Bahamas, the archipelago he later named San Salvador.

After the first arrival of Columbus, further exploration and colonization of “America” ​​by Europe began. From this point on, the Spanish Empire continued to grow larger and more powerful until at one point it became the most influential empire in the world. This fact is commemorated annually on October 12. The law that governs everything around this Spanish holiday says that on that day Spain “started a process of linguistic and cultural projection far beyond European borders”.

Controversy

However, there has been increasing controversy surrounding the party for years. America already existed when Columbus docked his ship. In fact, the continent was discovered about 14,000 years ago when the first humans set foot on it.

Moreover, the arrival of the Europeans was far from positive for the indigenous peoples. Their land was colonized with the original population largely exterminated. According to historians, about 90 percent of the original inhabitants did not survive the arrival of the Spanish and later other Europeans. In part, the indigenous people also succumbed to strange diseases to which they were not resistant. Those who eventually survived all this misery were forced to adopt the Christian faith.

New meaning of party

For these reasons, several countries have begun to replace the celebration with other celebrations that are more in line with their original cultural identity. In Argentina, for example, in 2010 Día de la Hispanidad was replaced by the celebration of Día de Diversidad, the Day of American Cultural Diversity. In Bolivia, the day was changed to decolonization day in 2009. On October 12, Chile celebrates the day of the meeting of two worlds.

In Spain, attempts have also been made to change the character of the festival. In 2016, the municipality of Madrid raised Wipala. This is a colorful flag that represents indigenous cultures. The Day of the Indigenous Resistance has been celebrated in the Navarre Council since 2017. Supporters of these changes feel that in this way the different points of view that exist around the historical event are taken into account.

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