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On October 9, Nordic communities worldwide will celebrate Leif Erikson Day – remembering the explorer credited with bringing the first Nordic people to America around the year 1000. The holiday has been adopted by a variety of states throughout the 20th century and represents a celebration of Norweigan explorers, the spirit of discovery, and the contributions of Norwegians in America. It’s a great opportunity to tuck in for a plate of herring and read up on your history of discovery!
History of Leif Erikson Day
Leif Erikson was likely born in Iceland around 970 or 980, son of Erik the Red and Thjodhild, and distant relative of the explorer who was said to have discovered Iceland. He was a true Viking from the start and had two brothers and a sister. His father was banished from Iceland and went to Greenland to establish the first permanent settlement there in 986.
Leif, however, apparently had enough of the extreme cold. He and his crew traveled to Norway in 999, where he was converted to Christianity and given the mission of introducing Christianity to Greenland. This was essential to his legend, as it was during this journey to Greenland, 500 years before Columbus would sail the ocean blue, that he was apparently blown off-course to what he called “Vinland.” Hint – it’s North America!
The New World to Leif is Eastern Canada to us, but that didn’t stop him from naming it “Vinland,” after all of the vines and grapes that covered the land. His crew built a settlement there for visitors and spent the winter in their undiscovered territory. Come Spring, Leif’s crew loaded their ship with grapes and timber and headed back to Greenland.
Nothing is known of his death, which was presumably in Greenland. However, his legacy has lived on for centuries. As word of his travels spread, other Norwegian explorers made the journey to Vinland, even making contact with the indigenous people. Norse settlements peppered Vinland, though they did not last. The Norwegian people were earning a reputation for these journeys, which spread toward Europe rapidly – some believe even Christopher Columbus had heard about it.
Norwegian people identify themselves and their culture with the courageous and intrepid explorations of Leif Erikson. As they immigrated in droves to the United States, statues of Leif Erikson began to crop up, and Scandinavian communities, particularly in the Midwest, still define themselves by his spirit and legacy today!
Leif Erikson Day timeline
Leif and his crew of 35 men leave Norway for the New World and touch down in North America in the year 1000.
52 Norwegian Quakers land on the shores of New York in the first organized migration and Congress honors this as the date of Leif Erikson Day.
Calvin Coolidge acknowledges Erikson as the discoverer of America at the Norse-American Centennial.
U.S. Congress asked the president to proclaim October 9 to be Leif Erikson day henceforth.
Leif Erikson Day FAQs
Why do we not celebrate Leif Erikson Day more?
Leif Erikson Day is just a few days before Columbus Day and doesn’t get as much attention. However, we at National Today think there is plenty of room for us to be celebrating both.
Where can I find more Leif Erikson Day festivals?
Leif Erikson Day is observed in many Nordic communities, but there are notable Nordic festivals around Scandinavian Museums and Heritage centers, as well as several in Washington state and Michigan.
What episode of Spongebob is Leif Erikson Day?
SpongeBob loves Leif Erikson Day and he celebrates it in the episode “Bubble Buddy”.
How to Celebrate Leif Erikson Day
Visit a Norweigan Heritage Museum
Vesterheim Museum in Iowa is touted as one of the best Norwegian history museums in the US, and is particularly fun to visit during Nordic Fest! Other great Norwegian museums include the National Nordic Museum in Seattle, and the Scandinavian Heritage Museum in Brooklyn. Do you have a Nordic heritage center near you?
Read up on your history
Besides biographies, history books, and the like, a variety of less heavy-handed media on Leif Erikson has been produced, even a manga called “Vinland Saga.”
Embrace Norweigan culture
If a museum isn’t your jam, there are so many Norwegian artists, writers, and filmmakers whose work you can celebrate on this day. Some examples include Ibsen, the playwright of “A Doll’s House,” or watch “Kon Tiki,” an action film about a Norweigian explorer headed to Polynesia from Peru. If you’re still not sold, you can always try some Norweigan seafood or famous Jarlsberg cheese!
5 Incredible Facts About Leif Erikson
Often in Northern states including Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan, Norweigian communities come together to put on Leif Erikson festivals, complete with competitive runs, Viking weddings, and craft sales.
It’s not just one day!
The Leif Erikson lodge in Seattle, WA, holds events and meetings in Leif Erikson’s name throughout the year.
Land of the Grapes
Where Erikson’s ship first touched land, what is likely Eastern Canada today, there were so many vines and grapes that he named the land Vinland.
What happens in Las Vegas...
Las Vegas once celebrated Leif Erikson Day by having men dressed as Vikings raid the area around the famous Las Vegas sign and then pose for pictures.
Leif Erikson’s father, Erik the Red, had two sons and a daughter besides Leif; one of his sons, Thorvald, accompanied Leif and became the first European to die in North America.
Why We Love Leif Erikson Day
The spirit of discovery is inspiring!
Though Leif Erikson is assumedly the first European to discover North America, many other intrepid explorers have followed him - and more after that have adventured into and sought to map the continent. While the Native Americans were, of course, the original stewards of the land, we can still admire the courage it took early Europeans to voyage off of the map in hopes of finding new lands.
The Nordic festivals
Many Nordic communities and organizations put on quite the show for Leif Erikson day. In the Northern Midwest of the United States particularly, Leif Erikson Day is celebrated with traditional Viking weddings, parades, craft fairs, buffets of Norwegian food, and much more.
The celebration of history and culture
We don’t know about you, but we think we could always learn more about Norwegian culture, history, and the accomplishments of Norwegian immigrants. Norwegian cuisine involves a lot of seafood, including smoked salmon and whale steaks! It’s also heavy on bread and cheese, which we can definitely get behind.
Leif Erikson Day dates