On 12 October 1492, Christopher Columbus landed with his men on the island of Guananí, in the archipelago of the Bahamas, beginning a cultural bridge between the peoples of America and Spain that continues to this day.
It was in 1892, when the fourth centenary of the discovery was celebrated under the regency of María Cristina, that a royal decree proposed to coincide this event with the celebration of the National Holiday. The 1987 law, which established the date as a Spanish National Day, explained the reasons for making the two dates coincide:
“The chosen date, 12 October, symbolises the historical event on which Spain, on the verge of concluding a process of state-building based on our cultural and political plurality, and the integration of the Kingdoms of Spain into a single Monarchy, initiates a period of linguistic and cultural projection beyond European borders.”
Spain’s National Day or Columbus Day?
The celebration was born in 1913 as an individual initiative of the former Spanish minister Faustino Rodríguez-San Pedro, who dreamed of some kind of event that would serve to twin Spain with the Spanish American nations. It was originally called Día de la Raza, and was first celebrated at the Casa Argentina in Málaga.
The event had great repercussions and in 1916 Argentina became the first country to officially institutionalise this festival. Spain imitated it in 1918 through a decree of King Alfonso XIII, although it still did not have the status of a national holiday.
The idea caught on and throughout the first decades of the 20th century different Spanish American countries began to establish 12 October as a public holiday in their territories, some using the name Día de la Raza, as in the case of Honduras, where it is still in use.
Spanish National Day
Although it is ‘popularly’ known as Día de la Hispanidad, and is so called in some other Spanish American countries, the Spanish law of 1987 establishes that what is celebrated on 12 October is the National Day of Spain, without mentioning Hispanidad.
This has not always been the case; an earlier Royal Decree, dating from 1981, which established rules for the celebration of 12 October, spoke of the Spanish National Day and Día de la Hispanidad. And before that, 12 October had been called Día de la Raza (Day of the Race), a name that it still retains ‘popularly’ in some American countries.