Leif Erikson Day is commemorated every year on October 9. The holiday honors Norwegian explorer Leif Erikson, who is credited with bringing the first Nordic European people into Continental America around the year 1000. This day also celebrates the wonders of discovery and highlights the Nordic population of America.
The holiday is often overshadowed by Columbus Day, which is a federal holiday and has sparked some controversy as many believe that Erikson was the first European to discover North America. Leif Erikson Day is not a federal holiday, so schools and businesses remain open.
History and Legacy of Leif Erikson
Leif Erikson is thought to have been born around 970CE in Iceland. His father was responsible for founding two settlements in Greenland, and Erikson is said to be a direct descendant of the man that discovered Iceland. In 999CE Erikson moved to Norway, where he converted to Christianity and had the mission of going back to Greenland to introduce the religion there. However during his journey to Greenland, hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus, Leif Erikson lost his course and instead came across a territory that he named Vinland. Years later, that continent would become North America. It is unknown exactly where in North America Leif Erikson landed, but most people believe it was along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.
He built a settlement there for the winter but eventually returned to Norway, bringing grapes and timber back into his ship. After his death, other Norwegian explorers made their way to Vinland, even making contact with the indigenous populations in the land. Eventually, word of Vinland spread across Europe, and some believe that it was this way that Christopher Columbus first found out about America.
Why Do We Celebrate Leif Erikson Day?
The belief that it was Leif Erikson and not Columbus who discovered America spread across the country in 1874 when Rasmus B. Anderson wrote a book that explained that Vikings were the first European people to arrive on the new continent. Years later, in 1925, at the Norse-American Centennial, President Calvin Coolidge recognized Leif Erikson as the true discoverer of America, after new research by Norwegian-American historians.
Leif Erikson Day was first adopted as a state holiday by Wisconsin in 1929, and Minnesota quickly followed in its footsteps, declaring it an official holiday in the state in 1931. In 1956, Leif Erikson day was observed in seven American states and one Canadian province.
In 1963, a bill was introduced by a senator and a representative from Minnesota, to make Leif Erikson Day a national holiday. The bill was approved in 1964, when Congress determined that the President was authorized to declare October 9 Leif Erikson Day through an official annual proclamation. The first president to do so was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, and every president since has followed in his footsteps. In 2021 President Biden became the latest to proclaim Leif Erikson Day:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 9, 2021, as Leif Erikson Day. I call upon all Americans to celebrate the contributions of Nordic Americans to our Nation with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.
Leif Erikson Day is commemorated on October 9 in honor of the ship Restauration, which arrived in New York on October 9, 1825, from Norway. This marked the beginning of organized immigration from Norway to the United States.
The day gained popularity with the general public after SpongeBob SquarePants displayed his love for Leif Erikson Day on the TV show's season 2 episode "Bubble Buddy". The episode opens with the animated character dressed up in Viking costume, proclaiming "it’s Leif Erikson Day!". Other notable quotes from the episode include “Happy Leif Erikson Day!” and “Hinga dinga durgen”, both of which have since become memes relating to #leiferiksonday.
How to Celebrate Leif Erikson Day
Leif Erikson Festival
In the small town of Norway (Michigan), there is an annual festival to celebrate Leif Erikson. Celebrations began in 1992 when a gift shop called The Swedish Passport gave out free cups of coffee and discounts to customers dressed as Vikings. Over the years the celebrations grew as additional businesses and communities started to take an interest.
Now The Leif Erikson Festival takes place over three days with family activities that include parades and processions, wagon rides, and demonstrations of Viking skills. There is also the farmer's market, Norwegian food tasting, and The crowning of Miss Norway & the Norse King.
The laying of the Wreath
In Chicago IL, the Norwegian National League organize a laying of a wreath at the statue of Leif Erikson in Humboldt Park.
Learning more about Leit Erikson
If like many others, you were unaware of Leif Erikson and the Norwegian people's contribution to the discovery of America, this is the perfect day to become more informed about the explorer's history. There are several resources to learn more about Erikson's life online, but also biographies and even manga books.
Several Norwegian museums around the United States display and commemorate Nordic cultural contributions. Check if there's one near you and make a day trip to learn more about Norwegian heritage and Viking culture.