Columbus Day is a federal holiday, but why isn’t Leif Erikson Day one too? If this is your first time hearing about this or if you simply don’t know the details of this celebration, we will help. And with this help, you will understand why there are debates brewing about whether Columbus Day actually honors the explorer for the wrong thing or not.

The Journey That's Behind Leif Erikson Day

Summer in the Greenland Coast Crca Year 1000 by Jens Erik Carl Rasmussen (1841–1893)

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Leif Erikson Day exists to celebrate the arrival of the Vikings of the 11th century to Newfoundland and Labrador. The group, led by Leif Erikson, is the one we can proclaim as the ones who truly discovered America for the first time from a historical standpoint. What’s more, they also proceeded to form colonies, but they couldn’t pull through with this deed to the fullest extent.

When Is Leif Erikson Day?

Leif Erikson Day occurs on October 9. The date doesn’t have anything to do with the Norse explorer himself, though it does make a reference to his journey. The date marks the time when the Norwegian ship Restoration first arrived in New York Harbor on October 9 1825. This moment represented the beginning of the first official wave of immigrants coming to the United States from Norway.

Leif Erikson And His Life

Leif Erikson’s future status as a celebrated explorer seems to have steered from his bloodline. He was the son of another famous explorer known as Erik the Red. He led the creation of the first European settlement, one which we know today as Greenland. It’s also the land that it is believed Leif was raised on alongside his other two brothers. Not much is known about his childhood.

As sourced by “Saga of Erik the Red,” Leif left Greenland behind and journeyed to Norway around the year 1000. On his way to the destination, some historians believe Leif stopped in the Hebrides, where he had an affair with a woman named Thorgunna. Their connection resulted, allegedly, in a son named Thorgils. In Norway, King Olaf I Tryggvason converted him with Christianity. He tasked Leif with returning to Greenland and spreading the religion among the people.

A Historical Voyage

Painting Of Erikson And His Crew

Leiv Eiriksson discovers North America by Christian Krohg (c. 1893)

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There are several sources that speak of Leif’s journey to the land we know now as North America. One speaks of Leif steering away from the course of his ship on his way back to Greenland and stumbling upon the land. He named it Vinland after observing the general fertility of the land and the abundance of grape vines growing everywhere.

Another source, the Icelandic “Saga of the Greenlanders,” writes of Leif’s encounter with a trader named Bjarni Herjulfsson. Allegedly, the latter told Leif that he’d observed Vinland from his ship fourteen years prior. Compared to the other source, scholars consider this particular saga to be more reliable with the information it provides.

Many Questions

But the conditions through which Leif ended up in North America aren’t the only things shrouded in mystery. Historians are still debating what the exact locations he stepped on even were. Some are still uncertain about the location of Vinland itself. However, there is a vague consensus regarding the fact that the Norse explorer made three landfalls: Helluland (Labrador), Markland (Newfoundland), and Vinland.

Leif didn’t spend much time in North America, having presumably been there for a failed settlement attempt and to raid its various riches. He set sail from Vinland and returned to Greenland, never returning to America again. What Leif Erikson left behind was a mostly Christianized Greenland and a spot in history books for his incredible discovery.

Leif wasn’t the only one to initiate expeditions to North America. His brother, Thorvald, led the Vikings to Vinland shortly after Leif left to Greenland to see the lands for himself. Although they tried to spread the faith to the Native Americans, their attempts ended up futile. Too many squabbles had arisen between the Natives and Vikings, one which even ended in Thorvald’s death. Not much is known about this but if it’s true, it would make Thorvald the first European to have been buried on American grounds.

Facts About Leif Erikson Day

  • Erikson isn’t actually a family name since it literally means “Erik’s son.” Every Norse male child would take on as a “family name” his father’s last name and add “son” at the end of it. For example, Leif Erikson’s sons were called Leifsson!
  • To make the matter of names even more complicated, Erik’s own name has a crazy number of variations depending on the location you’re in. Norway knows about Leiv Eiriksson and Iceland about Leifur Eiriksson. Old Norse writes his name off as Leifir Eiriksson, and some Americans simply call him Leif Ericson.
  • Just like his father had a nickname (Erik the Red), Leif had an alias of his own: Leif the Lucky. He received this nick after picking up yet another group of castaways on his journey from Vinland back to Greenland.

End

So, what did we mean in the intro? We meant that, historically, we really can’t appoint to Christopher Columbus the distinction of being the first European in America. Their merits (or faults) were on different levels, though. So, whether Leif Erikson Day should be celebrated with louder booms is still debatable.