As American holidays go, Columbus Day is unique. Unlike our other civic celebrations, Columbus Day commemorates an event that occurred centuries before the United States was even a nation. With the holiday just two weeks away, explore a free ebook from WhatSoProudlyWeHail.org with stories, speeches, and songs about Columbus—and the themes of exploration, immigration, and the New World.

Christopher Columbus was born in 1451 to a working-class family in Genoa, Italy. His love for exploration was sparked while working as a mariner on merchant ships in the Mediterranean during his early 20’s. In the 1480s, Columbus proposed the idea that Asia could be reached much more quickly by traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, instead of sailing around Africa.

Columbus tried unsuccessfully for years to find adequate funding for his proposed voyage, but eventually received approval from Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain in April 1492.

Although Columbus has become a subject of considerable controversy in recent years, he remains an American icon. “Columbia,” the feminine counterpart to Christopher Columbus, was America’s first Lady Liberty; large cities and universities are named in his honor; and statues and monuments across the country celebrate Columbus’s landing in the Americas.

In the years that have followed, Christopher Columbus has been held up as an icon for immigrants, most notably Catholic and Italian communities. To learn more about the significance of Columbus Day (and get lesson plan ideas for the holiday), check out the free ebookColumbus Day.