On the Saturday before Labor Day residents of Canandaigua Lake, Honeoye Lake and Keuka Lake each celebrate with the Ring Of Fire. Residents living on the lakes’ edge light road flares and set off fireworks all at the same time around the lake creating a fiery border around the water’s edge. While it’s certainly a fun way to wrap up and summer and celebrate the BBQs and boating sessions we enjoy there now, the celebration actually began as a way for Seneca tribes to celebrate their birth as a people and give thanks for peace.
It’s no secret that the lands we now know as the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate NY were once owned and inhabited by Native American tribes. What we currently know as Canandaigua Lake has a long standing tradition steeped in folklore and spirituality. At the South end of the lake lies a little known area called Clark’s Gully, but to the Seneca Indians it was called “Nundawao” and was home to “The Chosen Spot” where the founders of their tribe emerged from the Earth when the gully opened up.
Not far away from Clark’s Gully on the East side of the lake is another spot called Bare Hill. According to legend, it was at this spot that a small village was once encircled by a large serpent who had entrapped the villagers and held them hostage and anyone who dare attempted to escape was eaten alive. A courageous young village boy finally one day defeated the beast with his bow and arrow, but the serpent died a difficult and angry death, writhing in agony as its plummet to the lake tore down trees and made clearings on the hillside. Before making its way to the bottom depths of the lake, the snake released all of the heads of each of the victims and it’s believed those heads are now the large boulders found scattered around the lake. Some also believe that the serpent still exists at the bottom of Canandaigua Lake.
The Ring Of Fire celebration began with the Seneca people paying homage to the gods each year and thanking them for peace and a bountiful harvest. As time went on, it became a tradition of others who lived there and later a tradition that nearby lakes would celebrate as well. In addition to the Labor Day weekend Ring Of Fire, there are a couple lakes who light a ring around the lake to celebrate July 4th, and I believe even some other waterfront vacation spots like Sodus Bay who are now hosting their own Ring of Fire event.
Road flares and bonfires provide a lot of the glowing light, but a few braver residents will shoot off fireworks as well, and even Kongming Chinese lanterns can be seen being released from some docks! Regardless of the waterfront you’re on, and which time of year you’re in, the festival of lights is pretty fantastic, and for those who wish, a really wonderful way to link our current residency with that of the ancestral past of the Finger Lakes.