Ode to Leif Erikson

For my international readers today is Columbus Day in the U.S. and for some of us get a paid day off. As most of you know Columbus is the man who sailed west from Europe in 1492 (his first of three voyages) and “discovered America”. Well he actually ended up somewhere in the Bahamas and it is true that he as the first European that we know if in that part of the world.

Columbus is given credit for “discovering” the new world and setting in motion a series of events that would ignite colonialism, slavery, the Napoleonic wars on and on. Of course he couldn’t have known the consequences of his voyage, it was over a century later when many of the European colonial power finally fought things out. It was nearly 500 years that the European colonial powers were finally dismantled into the modern countries we have now, it took two world wars but we got there.

I’m not sure why we celebrate Columbus honestly, I mean I like having the day off but Europeans coming to the new world had, in a lot of cases horrific outcomes.

Yet, 500 years before Columbus “discovered” the “New World” a man by the name of Leif Erikson, a Viking explorer was blown off course enroot to Greenland and stumbled upon what is today Newfoundland in Canada (curious name choice eh?). There was no colonization, slaughter of the indigenous people, no slavery (although Vikings did take slaves). He sailed home and wrote about it.

Now there was a settlement and trading fort set up by Leif, again centuries before Columbus birth. It was found recently (in archeological terms anyway) in the 1960’s it is called L’Anse aux Meadows

The view from L’Anse aux Meadows

The site in of itself is proof that Europeans were in the “New World” centuries before Columbus, yet we still celebrate Columbus Day. So here is my tip of the hat to my Norse ancestors and my Viking ancestors and to Leif Erikson the true first European to visit the Americas. I think as time passes and we look at what we celebrate and why we gain more historical perspective. In writing this piece and reading about Columbus and Erikson I am perplexed as to why we celebrate Columbus at all, by all accounts he was a horrible person and his actions created horrific conditions for South America.

This isn’t a history focused blog, from time to time I do pieces on all sorts of topics. Columbus Day has always been one of those odd holidays in the U.S. it’s the kick off of fall, people are gearing up for the holidays, and the 4th quarter of the year has officially begun. I never questioned it or wondered about it, maybe it’s time to revisit whom we are celebrating and why? If we know Columbus wasn’t the first European to visit the Americas why celebrate him? Further, why celebrate the exploration at all? Once you delve more into the history of the outcome the more you might ask the same question.

Vikings were not great people, they were brutal like most peoples in antiquity. Life Erikson doesn’t come with the baggage Columbus does. If we are bent on celebrating discovery and the human drive to explore, I think that’s a positive thing. Why does it have to be any one person’s day then?

Anyway I’m don’t rambling. If you are celebrating Columbus Day this year, however you chose, perhaps you’ll tip the hat to Leif Erikson, I know I will.

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