It’s now completely official – no matter which way you recognise Matariki, it is officially the New Year! New Zealand gardeners should join with Maori in celebrating this special time of year, because ma’dears – this what Christmas should be for the Southern Hemisphere. A little confused? You don’t recognise the word Matariki, let alone the concepts? And how does the Winter Solstice fit in here? Do I get more presents? What babble is this? What are you talking about woman? Read on… it shall all be explained.
What is Matariki?
Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades. It rises just once a year, in mid-winter – late May or early June. For many Māori, it heralds the start of a new year.
Traditionally, Matariki was a time to remember those who had died in the last year. But it was also a happy event – crops had been harvested and seafood and birds had been collected. With plenty of food in the storehouses, Matariki was a time for singing, dancing and feasting.
(Information supplied by Te Ara – The encyclopedia of New Zealand)
But isn’t that what the Winter Solstice is for?
Yep. Matariki is our very own homegrown version of the winter solstice, a harvest party, a time for remembrance and to celebrate the year ahead. It is the time where we can relax after a hard year, where the winter preparations are done and we can just kick back and reward ourselves a little – indulge in some food, go see the rellies, have a bit of a holiday. It’s like Christmas for Kiwis, at a time of year that’s not so stupidly busy.
So Matariki happens on Winter Solstice?
Not quite, Matariki was celebrated at slightly different times by different Maori iwi (tribes). The generally accepted start date in this modern mixed-up world was June 14 this year. Just before dawn on that day the Pleiades shone bright in the sky, marking the beginning of celebrations. But other tribes recognised the first full moon after the rise of Pleiades, giving them time to prepare for the coming feast. So the full moon last night would have meant one very big party!
So what’s the connection between Winter Solstice and Christmas?
I am not going to debate here the existence of Jesus, the methods of his conception or anything about mangers. BUT historical evidence suggests that the timing of the celebration of the birth of Jesus was aligned to ‘envelop’ the pagan rituals of the Winter Solstice. (I use the word pagan here in the sense of ‘what the normal folk did before Christianity got a marketing department’.) Those fun loving ancient Romans had always partied up on the Winter Solstice, calling it the feast of Saturnalia.
The winter solstice brings the shortest day – and the longest night! – and happens this year in the northern hemisphere on December 21. Because it doesn’t conform to our calendar construct, it doesn’t turn up on the same day each year. Isn’t it funny Easter is still astronomically-fluent but Christmas isn’t?
Why don’t you like Christmas in summer?
Well, actually I do… it’s nice to have a holiday when the weather is beautiful. But – it’s a ridiculously busy time of year. So much is happening in my garden that I can’t easily go away – it’s the busiest time of year for growing.
So a gardener’s new year then?
Absolutely! The growing season is mostly done. There isn’t much to do in the garden. All of the exciting stuff is happening under the ground where the soil life is chomping, chewing and cationing ready to explode back on the scene in spring. I’ve got time to kick back think about my yearly successes and misfortunes, plan, scheme and maybe even dream. I’ll be eating through my delicious preserves while leafing through seed catalogues and cooking up delicious meals to share with friends and family. And since it’s also the end of the financial year – there may even be some presents! Oh, I do like presents.