Happy Leif Erikson Day! Since 1964, the United States has chosen this day to honor Leif Erikson, other Norse explorers, and all Americans with Viking heritage. The date was chosen to honor the first (organized) immigration to the U.S. from Norway, when the ship Restauration arrived in New York in 1825.
Leif’s grandfather, Thorvald Asvaldsson, was exiled from Norway after he murdered someone. He and the family ended up in northwestern Iceland.
When he grew up, Leif’s father (known as Erik Thorvaldson or, even better, Erik the Red) was exiled from Iceland for three years after he was involved in several feudal deaths (including a man named Eyiolf the Foul – don’t you wish we had names like this now, instead of just plain last names?!)
When Erik the Red’s exile ended, he returned to a famine stricken Iceland with rather optimistic stories of this place he called Greenland. Many Vikings took the bait and followed Erik to Greenland, a country that seems to exhibit far more ice than Iceland.
As a man, Lief did quite a bit of travelling. At one point he ended up at the court of King Olaf Tryggvason in Norway, where he was converted to Christianity. Later, Lief decided to sail west and search for a land some sailors claimed to have glimpsed, but never landed upon. He eventually ended up somewhere in Newfoundland, possible at L’Anse aux Meadows.
All of this happened around 1000 AD, but no permanent settlements really took (the colonists either left or died) and Lief’s information about the Americas never really reached anyone but other Vikings. That’s why, 500 years later, Christopher Columbus‘s voyage was such a big deal.
“Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea—
the Lord on high is mighty.”