Celebrate Matariki this year!
Jun 23, 2022

Unsure about Matariki and how to celebrate it? Read this!

For the first time in history, Aotearoa has held it's first public holiday on Friday 24th June to celebrate Matariki!  

The marking of Matariki with a public holiday has spurred new interest from people all across the motu (country) who now want to take part in the festivities of this important time in the year. 

So for those who aren’t already familiar with Matariki, let us catch you up on everything you need to know! We’ll also give you some tips on how you and your whānau can celebrate this year!

What is Matariki? 

For many iwi across Aotearoa, Matariki is associated with the start of the Māori New Year. This is because the maramataka (Māori lunar calendar) observes that the new lunar year begins when the cluster of stars known as Matariki rises in the sky. 

Matariki is an important star cluster of around 500 stars (only 6 or 7 are visible to the naked eye) that rises during the mid-winter months between May and July. These stars are also known as the Pleiades in European tradition, however they serve a very distinct and important purpose in Te Ao Māori (Māori world view). 

The stars of Matariki signal a time for Māori to gather to remember those who have passed and send their spirits up to be stars. It’s a time to reflect on the present, thank the gods for a plentiful harvest, and prepare for what’s to come in the new year. 

The stars were also closely associated with harvesting and planting. If the stars were able to be seen clearly, then you would have a successful crop. If they were hazy, then you needed to prepare for bad weather in the coming seasons.   

What usually happens during Matariki? 

Traditionally, various festivities were held after harvesting. Since the pātaka (food storehouses) were full, people had more free time to spend with whānau and relax. Various celebrations like burning ritual fires or giving offerings to honour ancestors and celebrate the present were held. 

Matariki was well celebrated until the 1940s then decreased in popularity. However, in the 2000s, celebrations came back strong. Nowadays, thousands of people celebrate Matariki every year. 

For most people, celebrations still include paying respect to ancestors and mourning those who’ve passed away. Alongside this, families gather to learn and have fun in each other’s company. Songs are sung, stories are told, music is played, and kai (food) is shared. 

For lots of people, it’s a chance to reconnect with their whānau and home, and celebrate the ending of one year and the coming of another. 

Why was the public holiday for Matariki held on the 24th June?   

Matariki is celebrated at many different times throughout the mid-winter months. The exact time that festivities are held depends on the iwi and where they’re located across the motu. 

However, the Matariki Advisory Group had to find one day to nominate as the public holiday. So, the advisory group found a date based on the maramataka. 

“We've identified the correct lunar phase, of the correct lunar month, of the correct season, and then we've made it the closest Friday to that period,” said Professor Rangiānehu Mātāmua of the advisory group. 

So the 24th June was the day where everyone across Aotearoa came together and took part in celebrating Matariki. However, Professor Mātāmua says that you do not have to observe Matariki on this day, many different iwi and whānau can decide themselves when they want to observe the start of their year. 

Matariki vs. Puanga

It’s important to note that some iwi celebrate Puanga rather than Matariki.

While all iwi recognise the new year between May to July, not all refer to it as Matariki. Some refer to it as Puanga. Due to the location of some iwi, the Matariki cluster of stars can be hard to see, so they look to the next star that is visible, Puanga (Rigel in the Orion Constellation). This is not a rejection of Matariki, it’s just that Puanga is favoured. 

Iwi in Whanganui, Taranaki, some parts of the Far North and some parts of the South Island celebrate Puanga. Just like Matariki, Puanga is all about connecting with others, reflecting, preparing, and celebrating everything to come. 

How can I celebrate Matariki this year?  

There are so many great ways you can celebrate Matariki! 

See the stars: 

Wake up bright and early before sunrise to look up to the sky to spot Matariki. To find the stars, look up to the northeast horizon then find the highly visible line of stars known as Tautoru (Orion’s Belt). Gaze further north and you’ll see a cluster of small stars. That’s the Matariki star cluster. 

Enjoy a feast of delicious kai: 

Since Matariki focuses on cherishing kai and hoping for a plentiful season ahead, why not grab some whānau and friends together to enjoy a feast of yummy kai! With the winter weather setting in, it’s a great way to warm everyone up! 

Remember your loved ones:

Matariki is all about honouring and remembering the loved ones that we have lost. So light a candle, say a prayer or simply think about the ones that aren’t with us anymore. It’s a wonderful time to reflect on their legacy!

Think about the future: 

What are your hopes and dreams for the coming year? What do you want to achieve? Mull it over and write it down so that you can come back to it next year and see how you’ve done! 

Join in with your community:

There’s a variety of events celebrating Matariki happening all across the motu. So jump online and check out what’s happening in your area! This is a great way to interact with your community and see how other people celebrate this important time. 

Check out Te Papa or your local museum: 

Te Papa is holding a week-long line-up of fantastic events perfect for the whole whānau! If you’re in Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington) then you should definitely head along. It’s going to be an exciting week with HEAPS to see and do! 

Have fun with your whānau: 

Sing songs, listen to music and share stories with your whānau! Matariki is a special time to connect with your loved ones, where you can learn from each other as well as enjoy some shared company. So get creative and do something fun! You could even play mū tōrere (a Māori board game) if you’re keen on doing something new! 

NZ Compare wishes you a joyous Matariki! 

Here at NZ Compare, we’re all about celebrating diversity. We believe Matariki and the meaning and purpose behind this season, is an important opportunity for Kiwis to support the progression of Te Ao Maori into our everyday lives. 

So we highly encourage every Kiwi to get out there and join in the festivities to celebrate Matariki!!

From the whole team at NZ Compare, we hope you enjoy Matariki this year. Have a wonderful break!

Mānawatia a Matariki!