Leif Erikson Day

(redirected from Leifr Eiríksson Day)

Leif Erikson Day

Type of Holiday: Historic
Date of Observation: October 9
Where Celebrated: Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, United States
Symbols and Customs: Leif Erikson Festival, Parade

ORIGINS

Leif Erikson Day commemorates the arrival of the Vikings in North America, which is thought to have occurred nearly 500 years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Leif the Lucky, or Leif Erikson (so named because he was the son of Erik the Red), is thought to have landed on the northeastern shore of what is now Canada some time around the year 1000. The details of Erikson's exploration are uncertain, mainly because most of the historical information about his voyages is found in ancient Norse sagas. Sagas were often composed to honor and entertain rather than to record events with accuracy.

Several Norse sagas describe Erikson's arrival during the fall in a coastal land that was flat, lush, and fertile. Erikson named this place "Vinland" after the wild grapes that grew there. The exact location of Vinland is not known, although historians and archaeologists have identified several possible locations. In the early 1960s, archaeologists discovered the ruins of a Viking settlement in L'Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland, Canada. The site contained important archaeological remains and included evidence of eight buildings. No direct link between Erikson and the site exists, but the location and layout of the buildings corresponds to ancient descriptions of the Vinland settlement. The area was declared a historic site by the Canadian government in 1976 and a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1978.

Norwegian-American cultural organizations began lobbying for an official U.S. holiday in honor of Leif Erikson as early as 1906. By that time, Leif Erikson Day was already being observed in Minnesota and Wisconsin by such groups as the Norwegian National League and the Sons of Norway. Although the exact date of Erikson's landing is not known, October 9 was chosen to commemorate Erikson's arrival during the fall and also to recognize the first organized group of Norwegian immigrants who landed in the port of New York on that date in 1825. On September 2, 1964, a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress was approved by President Lyndon B. Johnson, creating a national holiday in honor of Leif Erikson, to be observed annually on October 9.

As a historic holiday, Leif Erikson Day commemorates a significant historical event. People throughout the world remember significant events in their histories. Often, these are events that are important for an entire nation and become widely observed. The marking of such anniversaries serves not only to honor the values represented by the person or event commemorated, but also to strengthen and reinforce communal bonds of national, cultural, or ethnic identity. Victorious, joyful, and traumatic events are remembered through historic holidays. The commemorative expression reflects the original event through festive celebration or solemn ritual. Reenactments are common activities at historical holiday and festival gatherings, seeking to bring the past alive in the present.

Observances of Leif Erikson Day typically celebrate Viking history while acknowledging Erikson's courage, determination, and spirit of exploration. The cultures of Iceland and Norway are showcased as Erikson is honored as a "brave son of Iceland and grandson of Norway." Celebrations are held mainly in parts of the U.S. and Canada that have strong ties to Nordic and Scandinavian heritage. In Greenland, Iceland, and Norway, Erikson is generally regarded as an important historical figure, and the day may be observed as a celebration of the Nordic pioneering spirit.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Leif Erikson Festival

These festivals are usually sponsored by Norwegian-American cultural organizations in celebration of Viking life and culture. Historically accurate depictions and/or reenactments of life in the Viking era may be staged. Other common festival features may include replica Viking ships, staged battles, craft demonstrations, folk music and dancing, speakers and presentations, and a Viking feast.

Parade

In areas with a large population of Norwegian Americans, including parts of Minnesota, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin, communities may hold a parade in honor of Leif Erikson Day. Parades often feature representations of Viking life and culture, floats, and marchers from various cultural heritage groups.

FURTHER READING

Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005.

WEB SITES

Norwegian National League nnleague.org

Scandinavica.com Monthly Magazine www.scandinavica.com/culture/history/vinland.htm#ericson

Leif Erikson Day

October 9
The Viking explorer known as Leif the Lucky or Leif Erikson (because he was the son of Eric the Red) sailed westward from Greenland somewhere around the year 1000 and discovered a place he named Vinland after the wild grapes that grew there. No one really knows where Vinland was, but some historians believe that Erikson landed in North America 488 years before Columbus sailed into the New World. The only evidence that this may have happened are a few Viking relics found in Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Ontario. In 1960, the site of a Norse settlement was discovered at L'Anse aux Meadows, at the northern tip of Newfoundland. The site dates from about the year 1000, but it has not been definitively linked to Leif Erikson's explorations.
Because the date and place of Erikson's "discovery" of North America were uncertain, members of the Leif Erikson Association arbitrarily chose October 9 to commemorate this event—perhaps because the first organized group of Norwegian emigrants landed in America on October 9, 1825. But it wasn't until 1964 that President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed this as Leif Erikson Day.
States with large Norwegian-American populations—such as Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New York—often hold observances on this day, as do members of the Sons of Norway, the Leif Erikson Society, and other Norwegian-American organizations. October 9 is a commemorative day in Iceland and Norway as well.
CONTACTS:
Icelandic Embassy
1156 15th St. N.W., Ste. 1200
Washington, D.C. 20005
202-265-6653; fax: 202-265-6656
www.iceland.org
SOURCES:
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 698
AnnivHol-2000, p. 170
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 417