Leif Erikson Day

The content below is from Episode 132 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast


  • This week’s recommendation segment ties directly into the main event! This week I recommend you host a party.
    • There are pros and cons to hosting a party, just as there are pros and cons to anything.
    • Cons
      • You are responsible for the location whether it is your own home, a rented venue, or a neutral location.
      • So you have to clean, decorate, and provide some form of food, beverage, or entertainment.
      • If you are a guest at a party, you can simply leave when you want to, but when you host, you are expected to hang around
    • Pros
      • You don’t have to figure out transportation because you are already there!
      • You get to enjoy that awesome feeling that all the enjoyment the guests are having was your own doing.
      • If you spill something on your outfit, no worries, you are already home and can change in a jiffy!
  • The reason I recommend you host a party this week is because Shannon (my VERY soon to be wife) and I are hosting our very first themed party at our own home.
    • We had a house warming party back in April, which was a blast, but this weekend we are hosting Leif Erickson Day!
    • Starting traditions is a joy for me and so I set out to annually host 2 themed parties: Lief Erickson day in early Fall, and The Carbaugh Caberet in the spring.
    • I will say that I am a well-known extrovert that probably has something to do with why I love hosting parties so much.
  • But if you are more of an introvert (meaning spending time with lots of people can feel exhausting) then I suggest you host a smaller party.
    • Shannon and I host small game night parties all the time where we just invite about 2 to 6 people over to play board games and catch up.
  • Another recommendation is the 2007 movie Pathfinder starring Karl Urban.
    • Karl Urban has played Judge Dred, Billy Butcher in Amazon’s The Boys, and Jacob Holland in Netflix’s Sea Beasts.
    • This is one of those movies that I strongly urge you NOT to listen to the critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives this flick a 9%…. yet when I was younger I would always argue over what we could watch as a family and this movie is one of the only movies that my sister Cas and I could agree on. It’s just that good.
      • Here’s the plot: A Viking boy, nicknamed Ghost (Karl Urban), is adopted by the Wampanoag tribe after surviving a shipwreck despite a legend that death and destruction will follow the boy wherever he travels. Over the course of a decade, the young Norseman grows into a fierce warrior and battles against rampaging Vikings who slaughter the tribes. He defends the woman he loves (Moon Bloodgood) by waging a one-man war against his countrymen and becomes the savior and defender of the Wampanoag people.
      • This movie is LOOSELY based on this episode’s main event.
        • Except in this movie, the Vikings are the baddies.


  • About 500 years before Christopher Columbus crossed the ocean blue (1492), Erik the Red and Leif Erikson set out on the North Atlantic Ocean and started settlements on Greenland.
    • Today, historians recognize these two Vikings as the badass adventurers that they were.
    • Erik’s son Leif went on to be the first European to reach the New World, a feat that was so difficult that he was seldom believed by his fellow man.
    • Unlike Columbus, when the Vikings discovered Vinland, they knew it was an undiscovered land. They weren’t deluded into thinking they had reached Asia.
    • Erik and his son were from Norway, they were full-blown Vikings raised to believe in Odin, Thor, Loki, and all of the Norse religion known as Asatro
      • “Asatro” is the worship of the Norse gods. The religion does not only involve the gods, but also the worship of giants and ancestors. Asatro is a relatively modern term, which became popular in the 19th century. The Vikings did not have a name for their religion when they encountered Christianity.
    • We typically think of Vikings as brutal warriors, and while they did do their fair share of ass-kicking, the Vikings were much better known as seafaring explorers.
      • The Vikings traveled vast distances in their longships: small wooden ships powered by sails and long man-powered oars.
      • Many brave Viking explorers ventured out to sea never to be heard from again. But those lucky enough to discover new land and return to tell about it would become legends. Today’s episode is about two of those real legends.


  • Around the year 950 AD, a Norweigan named Erik the Red was born.
    • Erik the Red, byname of Erik Thorvaldsson, Old Norse Eirik Rauð, Icelandic Eiríkur Rauði. He was named Erik the Red at a young age for his bright red hair.
    • When he was still a young boy, Erik and his family sailed to Iceland.
      • They had been exiled from their homeland of Norway for charges of Manslaughter. Erik’s dad Thorvald had killed a man over a land dispute.
    • So they set up shop in Iceland. But then Erik got into a scuffle with some of his fellow Icelanders and killed two of them… He was again, exiled. So he set sail west and went to another huge island which he named Greenland.
      • I wanted to say Erik the Red discovered Greenland, but that isn’t the case. Though he was the first to stay for an extended period of time:
  • First to settle in Greenland in 985AD
    • Greenland was and still is mostly ice with very little green to be had… but he wanted to trick more people into settling there with him so he called it Greenland… I mean, who would want to live in a land called “It’s so cold here that it hurts all the time-land?”
    • Leaving in about 982 from Snæfellsjökull, one of the westernmost points of Iceland, Erik and a small group of men reached land on the opposite shore of Greenland, a land that had been skirted by the Norwegian Gunnbjörn Ulfsson earlier in the 10th century. The party rounded the southern tip of Greenland and settled on an island at the mouth of Eriksfjord (now known as Tunulliarfik Fjord) near Qaqortoq (formerly Julianehåb). From there they explored the west and north for two years, bestowing place-names everywhere (a form of establishing personal control). Erik chose the inner area of Eriksfjord for his manor house, which he called Brattahlid (“Steep Slope”). He named the country Greenland in the belief that a good name would attract settlers.
  • He returned to Iceland in 986AD and basically conned a bunch of his fellow Vikings into coming with him to his new home of Greenland. With these new settlers he started a Viking Colony in Greenland.
    • Out of the 25 ships that sailed from Iceland, only 14 ships are believed to have landed safely at an area later known as Eystribygd (“Eastern Settlement”). Initially there were 400 to 500 settlers in the colony, which never grew to more than 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants. Erik’s colony, commemorated in Eiríks Saga Rauða (“Erik the Red’s Saga”) and Grænlendinga Saga (“Saga of the Greenlanders”), maintained contacts with Europe until the mid-15th century, by which time it had gradually died out.


Also known as: Leif Ericson, Leif Eriksson, Leif the Lucky, Leifr Eiríksson

From Encyclopedia Britannica:

Leif Erikson, Erikson also spelled ErikssonEricson, or Eiriksson, Old Norse Leifr Eiríksson, byname Leif the Lucky, (flourished 11th century), Norse explorer widely held to have been the first European to reach the shores of North America. The 13th- and 14th-century Icelandic accounts of his life show that he was a member of an early voyage to eastern North America, although he may not have been the first to sight its coast.

  • While Leif’s accomplishments as an explorer are mind boggling, one of the other main reasons he is well known today is because he converted to the world’s largest religion: Christianity… and spread its word.

The second of the three sons of Erik the Red, the first colonizer of Greenland, Leif sailed from Greenland to Norway shortly before 1000 AD to serve among the retainers at the court of Olaf I Tryggvason, who converted him to Christianity and commissioned him to urge that religion upon the Greenland settlers.

  • Before I go any further, I’d like to address a question I get a lot from those who listen to this podcast or at least share a similar fascinationg with history: how the hell do we know all this stuff?
  • Especially since the Vikings or Norse people didn’t write too much down on paper. The most accurate accounts of their ways of life come from foreigners who spent time amongst them like Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, an Arab poet who traveled north to the Viking lands in the 10th century.
    • Fun Fact:
      • another good Viking movie to watch is the 13th Warrior starring Antonio Banderas. The movie is based on two peculiar sources, one non-fictions based Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan’s description of the Vikings he encountered in the 10th century, and the other source being Beowulf, the oldest surviving story to have been written in English.
    • But the Vikings did tell stories… or Sagas.
    • At their simplest, the Viking sagas are a body of literature that was mostly written by Icelanders in the 13th century CE. Saga is an Old Norse word meaning “a thing that is said.”
    • In the 13th Century, an unknown Icelandic scribe wrote the Viking Sagas and described his people’s pagan past.
    • This is how the story of Erik the Red and his son Leif Erikson are known today: from oral stories passed down generations until one day a scribe decided they were worth writing down.

According to Eiríks saga rauða (“Erik the Red’s Saga”), while returning to Greenland in about 1000, Leif was blown off course and landed on the North American continent, where he observed forests with excellent building timber and grapes, which led him to call the new region Vinland (“Land of Wine”). On his return to Greenland, he proselytized for Christianity and converted his mother, who built the first church in Greenland, at Brattahild, Erik the Red’s estate.

According to the Grænlendinga saga (“Saga of the Greenlanders”) in the Flateyjarbók (“Book of the Flat Islands”), considered by many scholars to be more reliable in some aspects than Eiríks saga rauða, Leif learned of the new land to the west from the Icelander Bjarni Herjólfsson, who had been storm-driven there en route to Greenland about 15 years earlier.

  • Here’s how Ben Thompson over at “” describes it:
    • “Well, apparently some guy named Bjarni Herjolfsson thought this sounded just stellar and decided he should go visit his dad in Greenland, but as he was making the 450 mile trip from Norway through the North Sea he got blown off course and ended up finding some huge uncharted huge land mass covered with trees and sand and things. Realizing this wasn’t the desolate miserable wasteland he was expecting to find, Bjarni figured he’d made a wrong turn somewhere, so he cranked the e-brake on his longship, popped a U-turn, landed in Greenland, found his pops, and was basically just like, “I guess I found some other new land or whatever but who cares because hooray for Greenland, right folks?”  When Bjarni told his story to Erik the Red, Erik’s young son Leif was pumped. Like, super pumped up out of his mind.”
    • Leif Ericsson pretty much thought about this new world every day for like the next 15 years, dreaming about having the opportunity to win glory by discovering something important, and then celebrating his intrepidness by laying out on the beach working on his tan. When he was finally old enough, Leif tracked down Bjarni Herjolfsson, had coffee or whatever with him, and asked Bjarni to tell him everything about his voyage. Bjarni gave Leif a general idea of where this land was, and Leif was so on board with it that not only did he buy Bjarni’s ship from him, he also went out and hired several members of Bjarni’s old crew so they could help guide him.
    • So, finally, in the nice round-numbered year of 1000 AD, Leif Ericsson assembled a crew of 30 or so rowers and explorers, loaded them into Bjarni’s old ship, dusted off his trusty compass, and prepared for the adventure of a lifetime. Leif offered to let his dad Erik the Red lead the expedition, but as Erik was riding out to the dockyards he fell off his horse and was like, “yeah forget it, I think I’m too old for this stuff anyways.”
  • What followed was madness.
    • Leif took his longship, which could withstand the seas surrounding Europe but was really designed to go up and down rivers, and set out on the open ocean, the north Atlantic with no reference point whatsoever. And it wasn’t like this was smooth sailing. This is the Atlantic, it gets COLD, windy, giant waves, and hellish storms is what lied ahead for Leif. He was going off the story of an old fart from his village… nuts.
    • But he did make it.
    • His fellow Greenland Vikings thought he was mad for attempting such exploration and dubbed him Leif the Lucky for not being swallowed by a mythical Norse sea monster across the ocean.
    • He set foot on what would later become Baffin Island Canada and became the first European to set foot on the Americas… something that wouldn’t be duplicated for another 500 years.

He named the new areas according to their qualities: Helluland (“Land of Flat Rocks”), the Frobisher Bay area in the north (or possibly Cape Chidley on the northern tip of Labrador).

  • Leif didn’t like the land of flat rocks too much lol. He spent little time here and continued south along the coast of what would MUCH later be known as Canada. Then he discovered:

Markland (“Land of Forests”), most likely the central coast of Labrador; and, farthest south, Vinland, possibly the area surrounding the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

  • Vinland is where Leif found paradise.
    • I’ll read what Ben Thompson over at had to say about it again… If you are reading this: sorry for using your writing so often Ben. I just love your style.
    • “Leif the Lucky had finally arrived in a place that was worth discovering. Green meadows, a lush maple forest, beaches, warm weather, deer, rabbits, rainbows, and all kinds of other great things waited for him. If that wasn’t enough, as his crews were exploring the land, a guy named Tyrker the German wandered off through a forest and accidentally discovered a huge patch of wild grape vines. This was such a big deal that not only did Tyrker the German start being known as Tyrker Grape-Finder, but Leif, in his typical Leif Ericsson fashion, named the region Vinland, which (as you can probably guess) means “Vine Land”. It was so rad that Leif decided to stay there for the winter. He and his men built turf houses, a smithy, a lumber yard, a dock to fix their ship, and even a sauna to relax their tired rowing muscles. The Vikings picked a ton of grapes and made their own wine, which was huge for them because grapes don’t grow in Scandinavia, and usually any time the Vikings wanted a nice bottle of fine wine they had to burn a Frankish monastery to the ground and pry it from the hands of a Catholic monk. 
    • After spending the most pleasant winter of his life chilling in Vinland, Leif and his men sailed back to Greenland and told everyone what went down. They were welcomed home as heroes, but there was also some bad news – Erik the Red was dead, and now everyone was looking to Leif to lead them as Jarl of Greenland. It was a responsibility Leif couldn’t refuse. He would never return to the New World again.”

“Leif set sail when he was ready; he ran into prolonged difficulties at sea, and finally came upon lands whose existence he had never suspected. There were fields of wild wheat growing there, and vines, and among the trees were maples.”

– The Saga of Erik the Red

Further expeditions to Vinland were later made by Leif’s siblings, Thorstein (whom weather forced to turn back before he reached Vinland), Thorvald, and Freydis, as well as by the Icelander Thorfinn Karlsefni.

  • Thorvald, Leif’s brother, had one hell of a story from his adventure to Vinland… Unfortunately he never got to tell it… but one of his crew did.
    • Thorvald did make it to Vinland and even had enough resources to venture farther south. But Thorvald’s party came across something that Leif’s party did not… indigenous people, Native Americans.
      • Refer back to my recommendation segment from this week and the movie Pathfinder where Vikings arrive and get their asses kicked by Native Americans…
    • Thorvald and his men called the Native American Skrellings which is the Norse word for fairies, elves, and all the mythical woodland beings.
      • I actually love this detail because before we were calling them Indians, Vikings had dubbed them Skellings.
    • Well when diplomacy didn’t work and the Skellings were offended by all the Vikings running around the land and “discovery” everything, they started whooping Viking ass. Thorvald’s party got their asses handed to them. Thorvald himself got an arrow in the abdomen (the first European to die on North American soil… but not the last! HAHA Take that you redcoat bastards!… oh wait, I’m about 700 years off here)… Thorvald’s crew turned tail and ran on home to Greenland.
  • But that wasn’t the end of the Viking voyages to Vinland
    • After Thorvald’s crew returned with news that their captain had perished, a Norweigan viking and trader by the name of Throfin Karlsfeni married his widow. He then took on the dream of Thorvald and attempted to establish a settlement in Vinland.
    • He took about 100 Norse men and women and spent 3 winters living where Leif had previously created the smithy, doc, and grass huts.
    • Thorfin’s wife Gudrid gave birth to his son Snorri while they were living in Vinland and he would be the first European child born in the New World.
    • Thorfin, a trader and not particular to the life of a warrior, tried to make peace with the Skrellings by trading things like Milk and furs that the Native Americans had never seen before.
    • But again diplomacy was lost in the end. Thorfin’s people only brought so many furs from Europe and without establishing a reliable means of communication, the Skrellings took it as a sign of disrespect that they stopped trading.
    • Communication is key, because, without it, Mutually beneficial trade turned into all-out battles within just a few years. Axe-wielding Vikings went up against hardcore native Americans and lost.
  • With such heavy losses in manpower and little left of his settlement, Thorfin left Vinland for good. But he went back to Greenland and told tales of his time in the New World. Then a 4th… and final expedition was launched for Vinland
    • By this time the Skrellings had had enough. Vikings showed up to Vinland and started harvesting grapes and after only being on the continent for a few short days were brutally attacked by the Native Americans. This party didn’t fair well at all. They were greatly outnumbered and not armed for such a well-executed attack… so they just ran from the Skrellings, people they still perceived as mythical beings of the forest.
    • While all the Viking men ran in terror, Leif Erikson’s sister Freydis Eriksdottr turned and tried to rally the men. She was pregnant at the time, in her third trimester when she said “Why do ye run, stout men as ye are, before these miserable wretches, whom I thought ye would knock down like cattle? If I had weapons, methinks I could fight better than any of ye!”… that’s badass
    • Freydis’s rally didn’t work. The Viking men fled the battle all the same… but she didn’t. She had the blood of Erik the Red in her veins. She grabbed the sword of a slain Viking at her feet, ripped open her shirt, gave a bone-rattling war cry, and slammed the sword to her chest until all the Skrellings had run away in fear… again, she was like 8 months pregnant…….
    • Freydis’s party went on to harvest grapes, and before they were through, Fredis had killed 5 Viking women in a dispute over said grapes LOL. This family was nutz.
    • There were a few more Viking expeditions to Markland for timber, but none to Vinland after Freydis’s party. The new world was about as far as Norway. The main difference being that Norway was full of allies willing to trade and not an unknown number of super hostile Skrellings.
  • Time passed and soon the Greenland Saga was seen as tale of fiction by Europeans. The Old World, including most Nordic countries, had written Vinland off as nothing more than a story…
    • That was until “In the 1960s two Norwegian researchers, Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered and excavated the Viking base camp at L’Anse aux Meadows (map) on the northern tip of Newfoundland—the first confirmed Viking outpost in the Americas. Dated to between 989 and 1020, the camp boasted three Viking halls, as well as an assortment of huts for weaving, ironworking, and ship repair.”
    • This shit happened. Leif Erikson, one of the greatest explorers of all time was laughed at by his peers and for nearly a millennia his accomplishments were regarded as mere myths. But no, Leif did it. He had the balls to dream big and risk icy watery grave hundreds of miles away from his home to see his dream come true… and he did it.
  • It is a shame that a man who knowingly sailed to the Americas to enslave, torture, and murder Native Americans to the point of Genocide is celebrated with a Nationally recognized holiday I’m speaking of Christopher Columbus… , yet no one remembers Leif Erickson even existed.
  • National Geographic’s Becky Little writes: ”
    • “Christopher Columbus and his holiday are controversial today largely because of the way he and subsequent European explorers and settlers treated Native Americans. For years, there have been campaigns to celebrate an indigenous people’s day. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many people had a different problem with Columbus: They argued that the real credit for discovering North America should go to Erikson, who they believed arrived 500 years before Columbus. Plus, they favored Erikson because, unlike Columbus, he wasn’t Italian or Catholic.”
    • The idea is that back in late 1800’s and early 1900’s America, there was a lot more discrimination against Italian and Catholic people. Non-Catholics (mainly Protestant) Americans were weary about celebrating a holiday for an Italian Catholic as they were seen as lesser.
      • Hard to believe nowadays as Italian and Catholic discrimination is virtually unheard of in American society, but back then it was a bid deal.
    • “Around the time of the centennial, a Roman Catholic organization called the Knights of Columbus and several Italian American groups began to lobby Congress to recognize Columbus Day. In 1907, the founder of Colorado’s first Italian newspaper helped establish the first official Columbus Day in his state, and within a few years, 15 states had adopted the holiday. By the time it became a federal holiday in 1971, most states already recognized Columbus Day.
    • Leif Erikson Day made its debut in the early 20th century too, but it never gained the same momentum. Though it’s been a national day of observance since 1954 (meaning the president issues a proclamation about it), many people don’t even know about Leif Erikson Day.
    • Columbus’s “victory” over Erikson is partly due to early lobbying by Italian Americans”
    • I’m not against indigenous people’s day, but I don’t really want to celebrate Columbus day.
  • Government workers get off work on Columbus day for pete’s sake! So I thought the least I could do was throw a party each year in Western Pennsylvania to honor the FIRST European to reach the Americas. Leif Erikson day is October 9th each year. I hope you will celebrate it with me!
    • You can celebrate like Spongebob and dress up as a Viking. Or you can enjoy some Norweigan food: fish, cheese, and bread are the 3 staples of Norweigan cuisine.