Leif Erickson Drive residents celebrate street’s namesake with neighborly tradition

By Zach Jensen,

Luther professor Uwe Rudolf donned Viking garb for the Leif Erickson Day celebration held this year on Leif Erickson Drive in Decorah. (submitted)

Every year since its proclamation in 1964, Oct. 9 is designated as Leif Erickson Day – a special annual event during which Scandinavian Americans honor the famous explorer for reportedly being first European to have set foot on North America, around the year 1000. And, this year, up to 30 neighbors on Decorah’s Leif Erickson Drive gathered together to celebrate their street’s namesake for the second year in a row.

During the event, a special reading was given on the life of Leif Erickson, and a young neighbor girl made a Viking ship out of cardboard. After the reading, in true Viking style, the ship was burned as an effigy in a resident’s fire pit.

“It has brought the whole street together,” said Karen Guttebo, one of the street’s residents who attended the party.

“My wife, Lisa, had the idea to start a yearly street gathering on Leif Erickson Day in the summer of 2022,” added Decorah City Councilman Steven Zittergruen. “We delivered postcard invitations to all the residents of our street plus a few neighbors whose driveways go off of our street. Lief Erikson is a one-way street that is only two blocks long, so it’s not a large group of people.”

The Zittergruens weren’t sure who would accept their invitations, but they prepared for the party nonetheless — setting out drinks and snack-bowls and putting up a few decorations to help attendees get in the spirit of the event. And, when it came time for the party, the Zittergruens were surprised by the number of people who showed up.

“A lot of the neighborhood came,” Steven said. “And, it was delightful to put names with faces and chat for a couple of hours.”

But, the Leif Erickson Day celebrations aren’t the first times the street’s residents have gotten together. Guttebo said neighbors began doing activities together, in the street, in 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

“We used to gather in the street to exercise together,” said Guttebo. “Then, it turned into an outdoors happy-hour as well. It helped keep us sane during the lock-down during the pandemic.”

“During 2020, a large group met on the street for drinks and fellowship,” Steven said. “At the same time, as in many other neighborhoods, many neighborhood children got really close and spent much of the summer playing with each other outside, when most everything was closed for the summer. Those friendships have persisted to today, as have, I believe, the weekly meetings of the group on the street.”

Steven said he and his wife hope the tradition continues for years into the future. He said it may even evolve so different neighbors are chosen to host the event each year.

“These connections growing and expanding in our neighborhood has been a great thing, I think,” Steven said. “We’re feel fortunate to be on a street where we know each other and have lots of ways of forming and building neighborly connections.” 

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