Matariki, named for a star that rises in the sky in mid-winter in New Zealand, is a celebration of people, culture, language, spirituality and history. It's a time to pause and reflect on the year behind us and consider the year ahead. With the turbulent times of Covid-19 still with us and a greater awareness of, and appreciation for, #blacklivesmatter, Matariki 2020 falls at an appropriate time.
The appearance of Matariki in the sky is traditionally a time for a tohunga (priest or expert) to forecast the year ahead. If the stars are clear and bright, warm and productive seasons can be expected, but hazy or shimmering clusters mean a cold winter is coming. In the northern hemisphere, the Matariki star cluster is known as Pleiades (or the seven sisters) and is mentioned throughout European history. Interestingly similar traditions of using these stars to forecast the year ahead are known across the globe.
In New Zealand, each iwi has their own stories and traditions and celebrate Matariki at different times. Some hold festivities when Matariki is first seen in the dawn sky and others after the rise of the full moon or at the beginning of the next new moon. This year the star cluster will return to kiwi skies on 13-16 July and will be celebrated nationwide 13-20 July.
Traditionally, Matariki was celebrated by gathering with whanau and reflecting on the past. They would honour their whakapapa and those ancestors that had passed away to the heavens. They would make offerings to land-based gods and plant new trees to signal new beginnings. While many communities still celebrate Matariki in this way, it has also become a time for people to come together and to celebrate through music, song, dance, and food.
There are numerous ways you can bring Matariki into your life and celebrate with your family;
- Pause and remember. Short days and dark evenings create an atmosphere conducive to staying close to home and taking a break from the outside world. In the spirit of Matariki as a time of reflection, light a candle to remember loved ones who have passed or to farewell unwanted memories. Gather your loved ones close and share your stories.
- Explore the outdoors. It's easy on wet and chilly days to stay indoors, but Matariki encourages enjoyment and exploration of the natural world. Check out the stars or take a walk in the bush or along the beach during the day. Listen out for the birds that were so clearly heard when the streets were empty of cars just a few weeks ago. Winter is not an auspicious time for planting, but it's still an excellent time to prepare the soil and plan your garden, so if you have a garden at home, get into it.
- Have a midwinter feast or spend time with kids in the kitchen. Many of us embraced cooking while we were in lockdown and have happily given that up with the move to level 1. Matariki is a time to share kai and the passing of traditions from one generation to the next. So pull out those recipes you loved during the lockdown, get the kids helping in the kitchen, have a midwinter feast and make this part of your family story.
- Set some goals and plan for the year ahead. As well as a time of reflection, Matariki is about new beginnings. Many of our plans have been disrupted by Covid-19, take time to reassess and work out what's important to you and what's achievable. Set some exercise goals, plan some trips around NZ, write down your hopes and dreams and start planning for the year ahead.
- Join the celebrations. Check out Matariki festival events in your area, such as Matariki on the Maunga in Mt Roskill, Te Taumata Kapa Haka in central Auckland or join the Matariki Dawn Karakia being held online.