Matariki celebrations seem to have popped up on the Kiwi calendar recently, as a time to gather and celebrate in the middle of our chilly winter. It’s always a very special time of year for us at Tamaki – steeped in celebration and legends, it’s something our ancestors saw as the ‘highlight’ on the calendar! If you’re new to NZ, or new to our culture, here’s the low-down on what we’re actually celebrating: What is Matariki? 

Matariki is a star cluster that Māori used to predict the weather

Matariki is a smattering of stars that are also known as the Seven Sisters. For Māori, looking to the skies has always proven a smart way to ask nature about it’s secrets. The stars helped guide our ancestors, who were master navigators, on great sea voyages in waka (canoes).  During winter, Māori again looked to Matariki to see how the weather for the season ahead would be. If the stars shone bright, it bode well for the season ahead; if they were dull, it meant months of hard work and hungry bellies. 

A clear, evening sky full of stars overlooking a beach

Our ancestors traditionally looked to the stars to predict the weather, and to find their way at sea.

Matariki is the Māori New Year: a time to give thanks

Māori feel a deep connection to the land, sea and forests. They relied on nature to provide everything from food, to shelter, to the clothes on their back, and in return they celebrated and respected nature. Our legends are woven with the spirits of nature: it is said that Tāwhirimātea, the god of the winds, threw his eyes to the heavens in anger when earth and sky split, and they twinkle to this day as Matariki. Matariki was a time to give thanks for the previous season – another year was over, warmer weather was on the way, and the harshness of winter would soon pass.

Matariki is a time to share, feast and celebrate

In the depths of winter, there weren’t many crops to harvest, no eels or birds to catch, so it was time to crack into last year’s stores. Māori were experts at preserving food, like corn and kumara and even muttonbird!  This was a time of year to share the hard earned crop with the whole community, and to recognise everybody’s efforts. It was also time to hunker down and keep warm by playing traditional games and learning crafts with family and friends.

Matariki is still celebrated today

The traditional Matariki comes from an old way of life, that is rarely seen in modern New Zealand. But Kiwis of all backgrounds are starting to come together at this time of year – winter can be long and lonely without something to celebrate! Modern celebrations ask you to look to the skies once more – to stargaze, fly kites or watch fireworks displays. All over the country, you can see displays of Māori music, arts and crafts. And of course, no Matariki is complete without a feast! This is the perfect time of year to try a hearty and warming hāngi  (a meal cooked in the ground) which brings us together to share stories, laughter and thanks.