"Leif Landed First!" Celebrating Leif Erikson Day
By Sam Johnson
“TAKE A LIKING TO A VIKING!
That’s what my button says, and I’m wearing it because this weekend throughout North Dakota, Minnesota and all across this great land of ours where Americans of Norwegian heritage live together and fraternize, great quantities of lefse, lutefisk, potet klub, rosettes, and krumkake will be consumed with great celebration!
The occasion is a special one for many Norwegian-Americans, ranking second only to “Syttende Mai” (okay, and maybe third behind “Jul”).
Anyway, I’m referring to the celebration that will take place Oct. 9th, officially proclaimed by mayors, governors, and even the president himself as “LEIF ERIKSON DAY!”
In case you have forgotten your history or have lived a misinformed life under the influence of that insidious Italian jingle -- “In fourteen hundred an’ a ninety-two, Colombo he sail the ocean blue, an’ discover America for me an’ you” -- the truth of the matter is “Leif Landed First!”
In official recognition of this fact, Oct. 9th is set aside to commemorate this achievement, which, as it happens, is appropriately celebrated before Christopher Columbus Day on Oct. 11th.
In the event you have forgotten your history, here’s the true account of how Leif Erikson was the first to discover America, as chronicled in the “Graenlendinga Saga” of old.
It all started in 982 when a man known as Erik the Red, killed a man and was banished from Iceland, a Viking settlement.
He spent his banishment in exploration, and in doing so discovered icebound land he called Greenland. He cleverly named it Greenland in order to attract Viking settlers.
And it worked, for soon there was a colony established there. (Some say this made Erik “Boy-have-I-got-a-deal-for-you!” the Red the first land promoter).
Bjarni Herjolfsson was one of the new Greenland settlers who followed Erik in 986 to this land of promise. But he was blown off his course, past his destination, and ended up sighting unknown lands in the process. He made his way back to Greenland to report what he had seen.
Word of his sightings spread and caught the fancy of a young Viking, Leif, son of Erik the Red. Leif asked his father to lead an expedition to this new land, but Erik said he was too old for the hardships of such explorations. So, Leif took the job upon himself and set sail in 992 with a crew of 35 men in the same boat Bjarni had used.
He first encountered an island of stone he named “Helluland” which means “Stoneland” (probably present day Baffin Island). Then he reached land covered with trees which he called “Markland” which means “Forestland” (probably present day Labrador).
Finally, he discovered a land rich in grape vines and wild game. He called this land “Vinland.”
Leif returned to Greenland, rescuing some shipwrecked sailors he encountered on the way back. When he arrived home, he related what he had seen and done and from then on was called “Leif the Lucky.”
Leif Erikson helped organize and lead a group of settlers back to the riches of Vinland, but settlements there were not as successful as in Greenland and Iceland, and no further mention is made of them in the sagas.
The exact location of
Vinland is uncertain, though the sagas, as well as the 1960 archaeological findings of a Viking settlement by
Dr. Helge and Ann Stine Ingstad at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, confirm that Norsemen landed
in and attempted to settle North America around 1000 AD.
Some historians even claim that Vikings may have settled in northern New England states where grapes such as those mentioned in the sagas grow abundantly.
But whatever the location, historians agree that Vikings landed in America 500 years before Christopher Columbus and that the existing body of knowledge from those Viking explorations probably helped Columbus plan his voyage to the New World.
Of course the Sons of Norway have known this all along, and that’s why this weekend they will lift a glass of “akevitt” to “skål” the accomplishments of Lucky Leif Erikson!