Home New Zealand How to celebrate Matariki – Maori New Year

How to celebrate Matariki – Maori New Year

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Matariki is a special occasion in the New Zealand calendar which marks the start of the Māori New Year.

Signified by the Matariki cluster of stars reappearing in our night sky, this is a time to reflect on the past year, celebrate the present, and plan for the year ahead.

What is Matariki?

Matariki is a star cluster that appears in the early morning sky in New Zealand during the mid-winter months.

The star cluster is well known throughout the world and at different times of the year can be seen around the globe. It is one of the brightest clusters in the sky, containing hundreds of member stars.

Matariki has different names around the world. In English, it is called by its ancient Greek name, Pleiades or the Seven Sisters. In Hawaiian it is Makali’i, ‘eyes of royalty’, and in Japan it is Subaru, meaning ‘gathered together’.

What is the significance of Matariki?

Matariki is known as the Māori New Year in Te Ao Māori (the Māori world view).

Closely connected with the maramataka (the Māori lunar calendar), the reappearance of the Matariki stars in the early morning sky brings the past year to a close and marks the beginning of the new year.

Mātauranga Māori (ancestral knowledge and wisdom) is at the heart of celebrations of the Matariki public holiday and it will be a time for;

Remembrance – Honouring those we have lost since the last rising of Matariki

Celebrating the present – Gathering together to give thanks for what we have

Looking to the future – Looking forward to the promise of a new year

Historically, the stars of Matariki were also closely tied to planting, harvesting and hunting. If the stars appeared clear and bright, it signified an abundant season ahead.

When is Matariki?

Matariki takes place in mid-winter from late May to early July. The dates vary according to tribes and geography.

The first public holiday to celebrate Matariki was held in New Zealand on Friday 24 June, 2022.

Matariki falls on Friday 14 July in 2023, marking the reappearance of the constellation. The best time to view the Matariki cluster is early morning, just before dawn.

How to celebrate Matariki

Traditionally, Matariki festivities included lighting ritual fires, making offerings and various celebrations to farewell the dead, honour ancestors and celebrate life.

Nowadays, people all across Aotearoa come together to remember their ancestors, share (kai) food, sing songs, tell stories and play music.

Matariki is about reconnecting with your home and whānau (family).

Today there are many ways to acknowledge the Māori New Year and observe the rising of Matariki;

– Take time to remember loved ones who are no longer with you
– Give thanks for the year that has passed
– Enjoy a Matariki feast together
– Plan for the next year
– Spend time with family and friends
– Write down your wishes for the year
– Plan to grow a garden

How to spot the Matariki stars

As one of the star clusters nearest to Earth, this constellation is one of the most obvious to the naked eye.

To find them, look to the northeast horizon before sunrise.

Then, search for the distinct line of stars that forms Tautoru, or Orion’s belt. Keep moving your gaze north of these three stars until you see a cluster of tiny stars that are roughly as wide as Tautoru is long. These are the Matariki stars.

The meaning of each Matariki star

The Matariki star cluster contains hundreds of stars but only nine are visible to the naked eye. Each of these nine stars has a distinct story and significance in Māori culture.

According to one Māori myth, the cluster represents a whaea or mother – Matariki – and her six daughters Tupuānuku, Tupuārangi, Waipunarangi, Waitī, Waitā and Ururangi.

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