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!