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Monday, September 03, 2012

Labor Day and the End of Summer

Today is Labor Day in both the United States and Canada.  

Interestingly, the holiday’s origins, which I chronicled in a previous article on, in the two nations were similar and workers and labor leaders in each drew inspiration from each other. 

Canadian Flag on Stern of Maid of Mist Boat at 
Niagara Falls Canada
(Photo Copyright © 2012 by Chuck Nugent)

In the same year, Congress in the United States and Parliament in Canada each enacted laws establishing the first Monday in September as Labor Day and making that day a national holiday in their respective nations.  

The U.S. Congress passed the Labor Day law on June 28, 1894 and the Canadian Parliament passed their law less than a month later on July 23, 1894.  Both nations selected the same day - the first Monday in September - as the official date of Labor Day in their respective nations.

While Labor Day started out as a day to honor each nation’s workers, it has, over the years, come to mark the unofficial end of the summer vacation season.  By the time Labor Day arrives, the days are getting shorter and cooler, the vacation season is over for many and children are beginning to return to school.

In fact it is probably the start of the new school term that has caused Labor Day to become the unofficial end of the summer season.  

Traffic Heading out of Town for Weekend
(Photo Copyright © 2012 by Chuck Nugent)

Over the years, economic growth has resulted in both rising wages and shorter work hours.  The increased use of capital has allowed workers to greatly increase their productivity - in other words, using machines and other forms of productive capital, a worker can produce as much in a 40 hour week as previously in a 60 to 80 hour week.

This increased productivity has resulted in labor’s share of the increase in revenue from the sale of the larger output to increase.  Workers have, over the years, chosen to take part of this increase in the form of higher pay and part in the form of fewer work hours which translates into shorter work weeks and increased holidays and vacation time.
 Summer Fun at Seattle's Sea Fest
(Photo Copyright © 2012 by Chuck Nugent)

Higher incomes per worker eliminated the need rely on income from both parents and children in order for the family to survive.  As a result children have been able to leave the workforce and go to school.

Higher incomes have also enabled families to travel and engage in recreational activities together on their summer vacations as well as their two days off on weekends (historically the work week was Monday through Saturday with only Sunday off).

The combination of longer days, warm weather, children off from school, parents with vacation time and households with income in excess of what is needed for mere survival have all combined to make summer the ideal time for families to relax, travel and engage in recreational activities.

Hence, a holiday that both honors the contributions of the nation’s workers as well as one more day off for workers to enjoy the fruits of their success.
 Summer Vacationing at Niagara Falls
(Photo Copyright © 2012 by Chuck Nugent)

Links to other Labor Day articles by me:


Saturday, September 01, 2012

Genundowa Autumn Ring of Fire Around Canandaigua Lake

Canandaigua Lake lies nestled in the hills of Western New York State. It is the western most of the five Finger Lakes that stretch part way between Lake Ontario and the Pennsylvania border in Western New York.
Looking North from Southern Tip of
Canandaigua Lake
(Photo Copyright © 2012 by Chuck Nugent)
The five Finger Lakes consist of Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga and Skaneateles.

While science tells us that these lakes were carved out by ancient glaciers, the local Indian lore told how the lakes had been created at the beginning of time when the Great Spirit spread his fingers wide and left his palm print on the landscape with the five largest lakes being the imprint of his five fingers. 

Home of the five (later six when the Tuscora tribe joined,) tribe Iroquois Confederation - Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk  with the Tuscora tribe joining later bringing the confederation members to six - the land is packed with history and legend.

While the Finger Lake area has undergone substantial changes in the two plus centuries since the entire area around Canandaigua Lake was home to the Seneca tribe, their presence is still felt on the land.

Of course the Seneca tribe still exists with its government and many members living nearby on their Cattaraugus Reservation in the southwestern corner of New York State.  Many others live off the reservation and can be found scattered throughout their ancient homeland and beyond.

  Grapes ready for Harvest in Vineyard in hills above
Canandaigua Lake
 (Photo Copyright © 2012 by Chuck Nugent)

In addition to the Seneca people themselves, the landscape of western New York is dotted with towns and places bearing Seneca names, while memorials and markers also dot the landscape in remembrance of their past.

Then there are the legends and traditions that the tribe and popular folklore keep alive in the area.

One of these traditions that has long been celebrated along Canandaigua Lake is the Seneca tribe's Genundowa Autumn Ring of Fire ceremony. Each year at the end of summer following the harvesting of the crops, the tribe held a celebration of Thanksgiving.

One part of the celebration involved lighting a large fire on top of Bare Hill after the sun had set and darkness enveloped the land. Bare Hill, which is shrouded in Seneca legend and tradition, is located on the east side of Canandaigua Lake. 

The Seneca village of Genundowa was located near Bare Hill and the lighting of the fire atop the hill was the responsibility of the village's tribal elders and Keepers of the Light. 

The large fire on Bare Hill could be seen from all around the lake and the lighting of this fire was a signal for villages around the lake to light their own, smaller fires, along the shores. Within minutes of the lighting of the fire on Bare Hill the lake was ringed with fires. 

These fires represented both a message of Thanksgiving to God for a good harvest as well as a ceremonial bonding of all of the native villages that ringed the lake.

 White Settlers Replace Seneca After Revolution

 Following the end of the American Revolution, settlers began to move into the area of Western New York and many of the Seneca moved to lands reserved for them in the 1794 Pickering Treaty which was signed on the site where the Ontario County Courthouse now stands in the City of Canandaigua. 

Ontario County Courthouse in Canandaigua, NY
With Rock Marking Site of Signing 1794 Pickering Treaty
between United States & Seneca Nation
 (Photo Copyright © 2012 by Chuck Nugent)

Among the traditions that stayed behind as the land around the lake changed hands was the festival of lights. Over the years new variations entered.  Beginning in the early twentieth century, summer cottages were built around the lake where Seneca villages and camps had once been located.

Despite the changes, the festival was adopted by the new comers who substituted emergency road flares for the camp fires.  Instead the yellow glow of camp fires, the lake today is ringed with the red glow of these phosphorous flares.  

There have been other changes as well.  The festival is now held on the Saturday before Labor Day and for the new comers the festival marks the end of the summer season on the lake.  

 Public Beach along East Lake Rd. on Canandaigua Lake
 (Photo Copyright © 2012 by Chuck Nugent)

 Members of Seneca Tribe Returning to Participate in Festival

In recent years increasing numbers of the Seneca tribe have been returning for the festival and taking a more active role in reminding people of its origins.

In a way the Genundowa festival is still a celebration in which people give thanks to God.  While today's cottage owners and visitors, both Indian and non-Indian are mostly urban dwellers who no longer grow their own food.  

While the Seneca of long ago came together for this festival to thank God for a good harvest, today's participants also come together to thank God, not for a good harvest, but thankful for the opportunity to have enjoyed this beautiful for the past summer.

I left New York State years ago to seek my fortune elsewhere.  But I still retain fond memories of childhood summers spent on the shores of Canandaigua Lake and the annual tradition of the lighting of the flares around the lake on Saturday of Labor Day weekend each year.

My Great-Uncle's former cottage on East Side of Lake
(Photo Copyright © 2012 by Chuck Nugent)

While many things have changed in the intervening years, the annual Genundowa Festival of Lights continues and, if only for a few minutes, time stands still as the ancient Seneca festival is once again celebrated by those who dwell along the shores of this beautiful lake.

NOTE:  This is a re-write of an earlier account of the Genundowa Festival of Lights that was published on this blog on September 8, 2006 and can be found by clicking here:  The Genundowa Autumn Light Festival on Canandaigua Lake

Links to My Other Articles about Canandaigua Lake: 

Account, with Photos, of a Trip Around Canandaigua Lake 

A Canandaigua Mother's Candle Still Burns in Window Awaitin Son's Return for World War I