Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Happy Leif Erikson Day!

Happy Leif Erikson Day! This year marks the 49th Anniversary of the Presidential Proclamation of Leif Erikson Day, originally signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and first-issued on October 9, 1964. This was quite an auspicious occasion, considering that the idea was first proposed in 1865 and enjoyed the support of many of groups and individuals, like Ole Bull, F.D.R., and Edgar Allen Poe, throughout the years. But, we Scandinavians are nothing if not tenacious, so even though it took almost a century, we finally were rewarded with the acknowledgement that Leif got here first and beat the better known Columbus by 500 years.

Here’s how it happened: After traveling from Greenland to Norway in 999, and becoming a hirdman for King Olaf Tryggvason, Leif was given a mission: introduce Christianity to Greenland. According to various sources, while Leif was on his voyage to Greenland he was blown off course to a land that he did not expect to see, where he found "self-sown wheat fields and grapevines".

After returning to Greenland Leif purchased a new ship, gathered a crew of thirty-five men, and mounted an expedition towards the land he had found. Leif landed first in a rocky and desolate place he named Helluland (Flat-Rock Land; possibly Baffin Island). After venturing further by sea, he landed the second time in a forested place he named Markland (Forest Land; possibly Labrador). Finally, after two more days at sea, he landed in a place he named Vinland. There, he and his crew built a small settlement which was called Leifsbúðir (Leif's Booths) by later visitors from Greenland. After having wintered over in Vinland, Leif returned to Greenland in the spring with a cargo of grapes and timber. The rest, as they say, is history.
Well, actually, it wasn’t until the 1960’s when a couple of archeologists by the names of Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad discovered L'Anse aux Meadows and changed history as we knew it. Their discovery proved that Norse explorers had not only set foot on North America long before Christopher Columbus, but they had settled there, too.

Today, all people of Nordic descent should be proud of their heritage, the great accomplishments of their ancestors, and the contributions that Nordic people have made to the world throughout history. Happy Leif Erikson Day!

No comments: