Though not recorded, it is possible that the Vikings from Greenland observed North America’s first Christmas at their settlement in Vinland (Newfoundland)
An adventurous man with a spirit of curiosity, Leif Ericson was an explorer. As a young Viking boy, Leif inherited his father Eric’s bravery and fearlessness. Exiled from their home, the Norwegian Ericsons were forced to leave Iceland. Sailing their vessel across the expanse of ocean, Eric the Red and his family landed on a new territory, a hardscrabble land northwest of Iceland. Greenland was the springboard for Leif Ericson’s voyages to Canada.
Ericson Baptized into Catholic Church
On a voyage to Norway to his original family homeland, Leif Ericson and his men were indoctrinated in the Catholic Church during their long winter stay. The avid explorer received an audience with King Olav Tryggvasson, and later made a life-changing decision. “Before they left Norway, Leif, along with all of his men, accepted the faith and were baptised Christians,” said the Viking Network in “Leif Ericson.” Returning to Greenland in the spring, Ericson taught his family about his faith. Devoutly accepting the Christian religion, said the Network, his mother “asked Eric to have a church built for worship.” Her husband built the church for his dear wife, but he did not participate or believe.
Setting his sights on exploring in the westerly direction in 1000 CE (Common Era), Ericson and his crew of 35 sailors found the land described by Bjarni Herjolfsson from an earlier trip. Finding the region suitable for their needs, the settlers built an encampment with smaller buildings and a large house. Food sources bountiful, they prepared for winter on the northernmost point of Newfoundland, and made plans to grow gardens and catch fish in the warmer weather. Leif Ericson named the settlement “Vinland.”
Found on archaeological investigations of eight sites in the mid-1860s, the large house “measured about 66 ft by 53, comprising five rooms, including a large hall, with along hearth in the middle,” said Clarence J. d’Entremont in the Musée des Acadiens des Pubnicos et Centre de recherche in “#51 – The First Christmas in North America,” from the Yarmouth Vanguard, December 19, 1989. Following the Christian traditions, the Ericson family already observed Christmas in Greenland; on King Tryggvasson’s orders, Lief Ericson brought a priest with him to the exiled family’s island. It was in the comfortable, spacious home in North America that Ericson and his men may have celebrated Christmas on December 25th in the year 1000 CE.
Viking Ale and Mead
It is also possible that the settlers were able to observe the religious day in their usual festive manner. The Vikings were a farm people, raising animals and growing crops of wheat, barley and oats. Grinding the grain, the staple was made into foodstuffs and brewed into ale. The Vikings also made mead to quench their thirst, their recipe simple – sugar or honey, water and yeast. Did Ericson take a cask of his home-brewed ale aboard his ship?
First European Born in North America
“We can believe that his brother celebrated Christmas at the same place in 1002, 1003, and 1004,” according to the Musée des Acadiens. Thorfinn Karlsefni, another Viking explorer, “with his group must have done the same from 1007 to 1009 inclusive.” Thorfinn made Vinland his home, bringing his wife, Gudrid, to the new land. The site of the Ericson home is now called L’Anse aux Meadows. (L’anse aux Meadows was made a National Historic Site of Canada. In 1978.) Thorfinn and Gudrid’s son, Snorri Thorfinnsson was the first European child born in North America.
If the premise is accurate that Leif Ericson and his crew commemorated the earliest Christmas in Canada, then the festive season has been a beloved and welcomed tradition for over a thousand years.
- “Leif Ericson,” Viking Network Accessed December 15, 2011
- d’Entremont, Clarence J., “#51 – The First Christmas in North America,” Yarmouth Vanguard, December 19, 1989, Musée des Acadiens des Pubnicos et Centre de recherche Accessed December 15, 2011
- Parks Canada – L’anse aux Meadows Accessed December 17, 2011
This article first appeared on Suite101.com Copyright Susanna McLeod