Leif Erikson Day vs. Columbus Day: Do both deserve a day off?


Leif Erikson Discovers America, 1000 AD

On the second Monday of October, Americans across the country annually celebrate Columbus Day. The holiday is dedicated to the infamous Christopher Columbus, the first European to allegedly discover the Americas. But contrary to popular belief, the holiday isn’t as widely celebrated across the nation. In fact, only 22 states, New York being among them, recognize the day that grants many students and employees a surprise extra day off. So if the day is not as notorious as previously thought, why are we really celebrating Columbus? Furthermore, are there other days more deserving of such notoriety?

Leif Erikson Day, occurring on October 9th of every year, is one such example of a day that might be more deserving of the notoriety that Columbus Day entails. Let’s present both sides:

Firstly, Christopher Columbus was an Italian who made four voyages to the “New World” (later named America after the map maker Amerigo Vespucci). With substantial evidence of the destruction, we know his trip destabilized native order, spread disease, and killed over 90% of the natives in the Americas, effectively wiping out the majority civilizations in this half of the world that had existed for centuries. And yet we still celebrate Columbus as the “first” arrival of Europeans to the Americas.

The origins of the holiday come from the Tammany Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society which celebrated the 300th anniversary of his voyage in 1792. The celebration garnered recognition which eventually led to its popularity. In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt to officially declared Columbus Day as a holiday.

However, Columbus wasn’t the only European to claim to be the first to discover the “New World.” Within the last century, new evidence emerged that the first Europeans to land in America were actually vikings. Namely, a viking named Leif Erikson and the rest of his crew were the first. However, few people know of Leif Erikson due to the notoriety of Columbus overshadowing him.

Erikson was the son of Erik the Red, an outlaw with angry tendencies, who had been banished from Iceland. Erik went on to discover a settlement in Greenland. Leif Erikson, upon hearing the tales of a sailor known as Bjarni Herjólfsson who claimed to have sighted land in the west, organized a crew that sailed to America in 1,000 A.D. Upon reaching the west, they discovered what they believed to be the northern tip of Newfoundland, and settled there for the winter. They discovered grapes on vines that were perfect for wine, and then consequently named the land Vineland, or Vinland. Throughout all of his trips to America, he never attacked natives or spread disease, contrary to typical Viking procedures. Eventually, the Vikings left and their significance was lost under the legacy of Columbus.

Leif Erikson’s legacy has been mostly forgotten throughout history, and only Calvin Coolidge in 1925 first acknowledged he was the first explorer to discover America. Eventually, Lyndon B. Johnson was recommended by Congress to have October 9th as Leif Erikson Day, and it has therefore been put on our calendars.

Columbus has lost popularity over the years as the truth of his behavior spreads through the education system. Because of the fact that Erikson was not as cruel as Columbus, Leif Erikson deserves the same notoriety, if not more. Leif Erikson didn’t start a genocide or a pandemic. Leif is technically the first European discoverer of America, and therefore should be recognized more than Columbus, the alleged first European discoverer of the Americas. We should consider October 9th as a day off as well as the 12th. And to be completely frank, who wouldn’t like another day off?