Leif Erikson Day was declared a national holiday in 1964 by Lyndon B. Johnson. On October 9 each year, celebrations occur to honor this Greenlander, but why?
Leif Erikson was only twenty years old, in year 1,000, when he became a missionary for King Olaf of Norway. His task from this powerful leader was to convert Greenlanders to Christianity as King Olaf had done with Iceland (mostly by refusing to trade with them until they agreed to adopt the religion). Leif took on the task and was successful, converting many, except his father, the Viking Erik the Red.
After this success, Leif was tasked with another mission from the King, to explore the rumored land that existed west of Greenland. Leaving behind his beliefs of the Norse gods, Leif now had to leave his belief that the world was flat and that leaving the safety of his native country would lead to encountering vicious sea monsters.
Leif and his crew followed instructions from another explorer who had suspected that North America existed, Bjarni Herjólfsson. The group was looking for a location for a new Viking settlement. Many credit Leif Erikson as the first European to set foot on North American land (four hundred years before Christopher Columbus was born). The first place they reached was what is now known as Canada’s Baffin Island but they continued to sail south to find more accommodating terrain and ended up building a camp in Newfoundland. They called the camp Vinland, after finding grapes to make into wine.
Leif Erikson eventually returned to Greenland to serve as chieftain. Multiple groups of Greenland Vikings traveled back to Vinland to try and set up a permanent colony there. This never came to fruition as conflict with Native Americans broke out against the invaders.
“Leif the Lucky” inspired explorers years after his death. You can learn much more about Leif in this book or this one. Also if you want to incorporate more Viking style into your life, see our hundreds of Viking themed items here!