Happy Leif Erikson Day! Celebrate the first, real known European in the Americas with this “Viking” Norseman who sailed the Atlantic 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Erikson’s name has been spelled a variety of ways throughout history, including Leiv Erikson, Leif Eriksson, and Leif Eriksson, but all are anglicizations of his Old Norse name.
Erikson is known as the first European to have “discovered” continental North America. Prior to him, his father, Erik the Red, had established Norse colonies on the southern tip of Greenland, which is still within the Kingdom of Denmark.
Learn more about the history and origins of Leif Erikson Day here:
1. Erikson’s Family ‘Discovered’ Many Northwestern Lands
Erikson was the son of Erik the Red and his wife Thjodhild, who established European Greenlandic colonies. He was also a distant relative of Naddodd, who discovered the previously uninhabited Iceland.
It is unknown where Erikson was born, but most historians consider it likely that he was born in Iceland. In Iceland, he is considered a national hero for his sailing from the neighboring island Greenland to the North American coast.
He named this place “Vinland.”
However, this might not be true. According to a literal interpretation of the two sagas in the book Voyages to Vinland by American-Norwegian Einar Haugen, Erikson had heard of another land from a merchant who sighted it earlier, named Bjarni Herjolfsson. When Erikson finally got to Vinland by accident, he rescued two men who had been shipwrecked there.
These two unknown men are, according to Haugen, the “discoverers” of Vinland. It was called this because the land was described as being full of vines and grapes.
2. It Is Believed Vinland is in Newfoundland
Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered a Norse settlement in the northern parts of Newfoundland in the 1960s. Many believed it to be one of Erikson’s multiple settlements in Vinland. It is now known as L’Anse aux Meadows, which means “Jellyfish Cove” in corrupted French.
Later excavations by Bengt Schoenbak and Birgitta Wallace for Parks Canada revealed more about the purpose of this settlement and the type of activities that took place here. Their work produced further evidence of wood-working and iron-smelting, suggesting that the main activity at the site was repairing damaged vessels or constructing new ones from wood obtained in the nearby forests. According to the Smithsonian Institute “Later excavations by Bengt Schoenbak and Birgitta Wallace for Parks Canada revealed more about the purpose of this settlement and the type of activities that took place here. Their work produced further evidence of wood-working and iron-smelting, suggesting that the main activity at the site was repairing damaged vessels or constructing new ones from wood obtained in the nearby forests.”
3. There Is Evidence of Contact Between Vikings and Native Americans
The Norse described “skraelings” in their texts about Vinland, which has been taken to be their term for Native Americans.
Evidence of contact between the Vikings and indigenous peoples has been far away from Vinland. In August 1957, a pre-Columbian Norse artefact was found at the Goddard archaeological site on the central Maine coast. According to the History Channel, “The Goddard site contained extensive remains of an old Native American settlement at Naskeag Point, Brooklin, Maine on Penobscot Bay. On 18 August 1957, some weeks into his dig, a mere 12 centimetres below the surface at the center of the site, Mellgren found a small silver coin… in 1978, experts from London examined the coin and proclaimed it Norse. Experts from the University of Oslo determined the coin had probably been minted between 1065 and 1080 and circulated in the 12th and 13th centuries.”
However, some researchers believe the penny is a hoax.
4. Leif Erikson Day Has Been Celebrated Alongside Columbus Day
Many Nordic Americans and Nordic immigrants to the United States take pride in their heritage with Erikson. The first statue of Erikson was erected in Boston in 1887 by the efforts of American scientist Eben Norton Horsford, who believed that the Cape Cod area could have been Vinland.
Since then, statues of him have popped up all over the U.S.
In 1929, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a bill to make October 9 “Leif Erikson Day” in the state, urged by the state’s large population of Nordic immigrants and immigrant descendants. About thirty years later, the United States Congress followed suit with the President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaiming October 9 of each year as “Leif Erikson Day.”
Columbus Day had become a federal holiday in 1937.
5. It is Also Indigenous People’s Day
Indigenous People’s Day is a counter-celebration against Columbus Day in the United States. It is sometimes called “Native American Day” and occurs on October 9 this year, too.
Today, many cities and states now recognize Indigenous People’s Day over or with Columbus Day. In fact, last week, the Salt Lake City Council voted to have Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Columbus Day. They join 25 other cities nationwide in recognizing Indigenous People’s Day.
However, not everyone in Utah is happy about it. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, “The Italian American Civic League of Utah sent the City Council a letter Sept. 26, understanding the proposed resolution as the rejection of Columbus Day — “an uncalled-for affront to our culture” and “degrading and demeaning to all Italian-Americans.”