Happy National Leif Erikson Day!

Did anyone else watch a lot of SpongeBob SquarePants when they were younger? Okay, stupid question, because the answer is clearly yes. It’s an incredibly popular show. One of my favorite episodes is the Leif Erikson Day episode, and it turns out Leif Erikson Day is a real holiday. Who knew, right?

Hinga Dinga Durgen!

If you want a full biography of Leif Erikson, I would recommend either his Wikipedia page or perhaps this short biography from the History Channel. I will provide a brief biography based on these and other sources, and then I’ll let you get back to college football and watching Alabama steamroll my alma mater.

Leif Erikson, whose name was spelled many different ways in various historical records, was born in the late tenth century, likely between 970 and 980 AD. In case you’re wondering, yes, there is a lot about his life that is unknown. This was pre-Internet, pre-printing-press, pre-paper Scandinavia, and records weren’t the norm. We do know Leif was the son of famed Icelandic explorer Erik the Red, but we don’t even know for sure where he was born. Most historians seem to believe he was born in Iceland, but there is a contingent that believes he was actually born in Greenland. We do know he existed, so at least that’s good.

Meet Leif Erikson, The Viking Who Beat Columbus To America

Erik the Red was expelled from Iceland to Greenland around 980, and Leif grew up in Greenland, regardless of where he was actually born. Around the year 1000, Leif sailed from Greenland to Norway, stopping in the Hebrides Islands off of Scotland, where he fathered a son with a local chieftain’s daughter. Once he got to Norway he converted to Christianity and was sent back to Greenland to spread the faith there.

Leif’s exact movements after he left Norway are unclear. Some scholars believe he arrived in Greenland but soon thereafter set off for “Vinland,” a land to the west so named because of the wild grapes spotted by a previous Scandinavian sailor who never actually reached Vinland. Other scholars believe Leif was blown off course on his way back to Greenland and instead landed in Vinland, which turned out to be North America. Irrespective of the exact timing, we know Leif landed in North America and was in fact the first European to set foot on North American soil. Where exactly he landed is unclear, but there is evidence to suggest Newfoundland and other parts of northwest Canada. Items recovered during excavations on modern day Newfoundland was likely Leif’s base camp in the New World.

We don’t know how long Leif spent in North America, though most accounts suggest that Leif landed in the autumn, spent the winter in Vinland, and returned to Greenland with grapes and timber as booty. He never returned to North America, and in fact North America would be without European influence until Christopher Columbus landed in the West Indies some 480 or so years later.

Scandinavian-Americans began celebrating Leif Erikson in the late 19th century, and October 9 was chosen as a “likely” date on which Leif first made landfall in North America. Leif Erikson Day was made a national holiday by President Bill Clinton on October 6, 2000, and it has been celebrated annually ever since.

After returning to Greenland, Leif was last alluded to in 1019, and we know he died by 1025. One of his legitimate sons became chief of Leif’s clan, though further information on the Erikson family is sparse and anecdotal at best. However, that shouldn’t stop us from celebrating October 9 as Leif Erikson Day, and providing some recognition for a man who “discovered” North America almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

So put on your horned helmet, drink some Scandinavian mead out of a wooden chalice, and be sure to do a comically bad Nordic accent when you say “Hinga Dinga Durgen” in your toasts today!

Leif Erikson not a 'Viking' | Westbytimes | lacrossetribune.com

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