In the United States, Columbus Day is a fall holiday that commemorates Italian explorer Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World on October 12, 1492. It has been a federal holiday since 1937 and is always celebrated on the second Monday in October: New England's best month of the year.
In New England, the three-day weekend around the Columbus Day holiday is often associated with peak fall foliage, particularly in southern Vermont and New Hampshire, western Massachusetts and parts of neighboring New York State. Even if the leaves don't cooperate, many fall festivals and events are planned in the Northeast for Columbus Day weekend, and it's an ideal time to experience the diverse pleasures of New England in the fall, from sipping cider to picking pumpkins to attending a country fair.
If you're planning a Columbus Day Weekend trip to New England to join in the festivities, you'll need to know the date for this year's annual holiday (or the date in upcoming years) so that you can plan ahead and search for cheap flights, which can be tricky but not impossible to find during New England's busiest tourist season.
Columbus Day Dates: 2020 Through 2024
Here are upcoming dates for Columbus Day in the United States, so you can plan your own voyage of exploration:
- Monday, October 12, 2020
- Monday, October 11, 2021
- Monday, October 10, 2022
- Monday, October 9, 2023
- Monday, October 14, 2014
Past Columbus Day dates include: October 14, 2019; October 8, 2018; October 9, 2017; October 10, 2016; October 12, 2015; October 13, 2014; October 14, 2013; October 8, 2012; October 10, 2011; October 11, 2010 and October 12, 2009.
Columbus Day Events in New England
Three distinctly New England annual events should top your list of activities if you're visiting the region during the three-day Columbus Day Weekend:
- The Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta in Damariscotta, Maine, is always held over Columbus Day Weekend, and it is a sight to see. Giant pumpkins go on parade and become works of art, and there are pumpkin pie eating contests, Pumpkin Derby races and pumpkin pancakes for breakfast. Kids can participate in an Easter-egg-style hunt for more than 300 Jack-be-Littles, and the 180-foot giant pumpkin drop onto a derelict vehicle is a gooey orange mess of destruction. The ultimate event of the weekend, though, is Columbus Day Monday's Pumpkin Regatta, where giant hollowed-out pumpkins are used as boats in a madcap race—get there early for a harborside seat.
- The Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, Massachusetts, is also a Columbus Day Weekend tradition, and once again, giant pumpkins take center stage. The New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off is a highlight of this 201-year-old agricultural fair, which ends its 11-day run on Columbus Day each year. A few years ago, history was made when a Rhode Island farmer took the prize with the world's first one-ton pumpkin! This popular fair also features farm animals, grandstand entertainment, carnival games and rides, a petting zoo, arts and crafts, and, of course, fair food.
- The Nantucket Conservation Foundation's Cranberry Festival on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket is your annual chance to observe the cranberry harvest and maybe even wade into a bog. Held the Saturday before Columbus Day, this fall tradition also features freshly harvested cranberries for sale, hay rides, antique tractor displays, live music, children's activities and plentiful food to sample including Nantucket cranberry fudge.
The holiday weekend is also your perfect opportunity to see the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular in Providence, Rhode Island, to hang out with the spooks at the Haunted Graveyard at Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut, or to attend an Oktoberfest celebration such as Acadia's Oktoberfest in Maine or either Harpoon Riverbend Taps & Beer Garden Octoberfest or Mount Snow Oktoberfest in Vermont. Another favorite activity: Snapping photos with the Pumpkin People of Jackson, New Hampshire, or the pumpkin-headed inhabitants of Pumpkintown USA in East Hampton, Connecticut.
The Columbus Day Controversy
In recent years, Christopher Columbus has been under attack, and his bravery and curiosity have been downplayed by revisionists, who choose to focus instead on the negative outcomes of his arrival in the Americas: namely, the decimation of native populations. These reinterpretations of history, while justly sympathetic to Native Americans' plight, fail to consider the times and the inevitability that this clash of cultures would one day occur. Because of the controversy surrounding Columbus, the holiday is no longer as universally celebrated as it once was. Some cities and states, including Maine, have even chosen to rebrand the holiday as Indigenous Peoples' Day.