Ideas for celebrating Matariki with your whānau

Matariki is a time of celebration and remembrance that signals the beginning of the Māori New Year, Te Tau Hou Māori.

The word Matariki is the Māori name for a group of seven stars, also known as the Pleiades star cluster, which appears in the eastern sky sometime around the shortest day of the year. The season of Matariki begins with the rising of the Matariki star cluster. According to Maramataka (the Māori lunar calendar), the old year closes and the new year begins when the Matariki stars reappear.

Matariki is a time rich in traditions, many of which centre around whānau and community. For Māori, it represents a time to remember loved ones who have passed on in the previous year. It’s also a great time to gather together with the people you love, to reflect, to practise gratitude and to look towards the future. And in the middle of winter, what could be better than some cosy time spent with loved ones? In fact, Pipiri – the Māori name for the first lunar month of the Māori New Year, the equivalent of June/July when Matariki occurs – translates as “to draw close”.

So gather together whānau! Here are five ideas for simple Matariki traditions that you could introduce at your place:

1. Prepare a feast

Harvest is a significant theme of Matariki celebrations. Traditionally, crops would be harvested in Autumn, when the Matariki stars would disappear from view and Māori would celebrate the provisions of the season. Then, a month or so later the stars would reappear and their brightness would determine the success of the coming harvest season – the brighter the stars, the better the harvest. The brightness of the stars also determines when the next year’s crops should be planted.

In a modern context, Matariki reminds us to celebrate and honour the whenua in gratitude for the provision of a place to live and food to eat. And with all those harvested crops stored in the pātaka (pantry), an appropriate response is a family feast! So gather your people, prepare large amounts of kai, get the kids making star-shaped decorations and light some candles.

Matariki is a time for reflection and lighting candles is a nice way to remember loved ones who may have passed away. Matariki is also a time to look forward to the future, so you might want to spend some time at your family feast sharing hopes and goals for the coming year, even writing them down if you are one of those organised and motivated goal-setting families!

2. Do some stargazing

Kids love heading out in the dark with torches and a grown-up’s hand to hold, so going outside in PJs and warm jackets is an exciting and memorable tradition to embrace. The seven stars of Matariki can be seen with the naked eye, if you know where to look! Click here for a great video from Te Papa showing how to find the Matariki star cluster.

3. Get the vege garden ready

Matariki is a time to think about crops – to be grateful for last year’s harvest and prepare for the next. You might not be planting a whole paddock of kumara, but simply preparing some dirt in your backyard or planter box on the deck, ready to grow a few vegetables, is a meaningful family project at this time of year.

4. Plant a tree

Everyone benefits when someone plants a tree. Make it a tradition to plant a tree as a family each Matariki – whether at your own home or somewhere in your local community. You might find there’s a tree planting project happening in your community that your family could support.

5. Attend a community Matariki festival or event

Another important component of Matariki is getting outside and appreciating the whenua. Lots of communities host Matariki festivals and cultural events, and these are a great opportunity for families to head out together and be a part of something bigger than themselves, while appreciating the place they call home.

Matariki is a celebration for all New Zealanders and a profound moment of unity we can all be a part of in some small (or large!) way.

Ngā mihi o te tau hou!


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About Author

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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