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A significant event on the Māori calendar, Matariki takes its name from a cluster of stars that reappears in the night sky over New Zealand during mid-winter. Made up of hundreds of member stars, it’s one of the brightest clusters found in the sky and signals the Māori New Year.

Known as Pleiades in other parts of the world, the reappearance of the Matariki constellation represents the end of the Māori lunar year and marks the beginning of a new year.

Therefore, Matariki is forever linked with the Māori New Year and is a time of celebration and ceremony in Aotearoa New Zealand.

When is Matariki?

The exact calendar date of Matariki varies each year because it is based on lunar cycles, and different iwi (Māori tribes) begin their Matariki festivities at different times. Normally the Matariki cluster is visible in Aotearoa skies in June or July.

In yesteryear it was celebrated following the harvesting of crops, when food stores — or pātaka — were full.

In 2021, Matariki rose in the morning skies on 2 July, and so began a month of celebration.

How is Matariki recognised in New Zealand?

Historically, Matariki was celebrated with festivities like the making of offerings to the Māori gods, lighting of ritual fires and various celebrations to honour Māori ancestors, farewell the dead, and celebrate life.

In times before technological advances in meteorology, tohunga (experts) would inspect the Matariki star cluster to help predict how fruitful the new year’s harvest would be. Bright and clear stars signalled a warm and plentiful season, while hazy stars warned of approaching cold weather and lacklustre crops.

While our weather predictions have moved on, to this day Matariki stands for a time of transition, allowing families to mourn and honour their loved ones who have passed away in the year just been. The deceased are believed to have transformed into stars which now shine down from the night sky.

How is Matariki officially celebrated in New Zealand?

Large scale, public Matariki celebrations all but stopped in the 1940s and weren’t revived again until the year 2000. Their return was marked with a Hawke’s Bay Matariki festival which attracted 500 people in its first year (2000), then attracted 15,000 just three years later!

During these Matariki celebrations, tangata whenua (people of the land), and an increasing number of non-Māori kiwis, gather to celebrate Māori culture, the year that was, to plan for the future, tell stories, sing songs, share kai (food), and play music.

English New Zealand member schools and students acknowledge Matariki in a range of ways in and out of the classroom.

How can I celebrate Matariki from another country?

If you’re not in New Zealand when Matariki is visible from here, you won’t be able to see it, but that shouldn’t prevent you from recognising and celebrating the Māori New Year in your own way.

You could meet with some friends and take part in some of the activities mentioned above. You could even try cooking your own Hāngi, a traditional Māori meal cooked underground by heated rocks. See our blog about foods and drinks popular in Aotearoa to learn more.

Other ways to celebrate Matariki and learn more about Māori culture include poi making, or the haka — you may have seen the All Blacks do a haka before their rugby games.

Matariki is becoming a national holiday in 2022!

From 2022, Matariki will become a national public holiday in Aotearoa, New Zealand. In 2022 it will be recognised on Friday 24 June, and an advisory group has been created to help decide on the dates for the public holiday in future years, as it will shift each year.

Get in touch to learn more

Drop us a line to learn more about Matariki, Māori culture in general, and learning English with an English New Zealand member school.

We have been impacted by COVID-19, but remember, we do have a number of member schools who provide online English language courses for international students.

Ngā mihi o Matariki, te tau hou Māori!

Image: ‘Marker for the Matariki/Peliades cluster.’ By Ian Welch via CC BY 2.0.

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