Matariki as a Seasonal Festival
Matariki is a traditional Maori mid-winter festival and marks the beginning of a new year for Maori. it was a time for remembering the dead, and celebrating new life. This is a theme in many cultures – a mid winter festival celebrating hope in the midst of darkness, and a turning towards the growing light of a new year.
I was speaking at a church service many years ago on 1 November, and people were talking about the halloween festivities that had been held locally. They were torn about them – it’s origins are in the Christian festivals of All Saints and All Hallows, but have largely no connection with that story. Also in New Zealand these festivals are in the Spring, not the autumn, so the significance of the synchronicity of a dying year are missing from both Halloween and All Saints.
I wondered what would happen if instead of sitting in our church buildings worrying about people missing the significance of All Hallows eve, we left the church building and got engaged in adding significance to the halloween celebrations going outside. I suggested we might gather at a church yard, with a fire and remember the people buried there, and place candles on their graves in remembrance.
I am not in Church leadership, so I did not have the ability to implement this idea, but the potential power of it never left me. Some years later my partner died, and was buried in our local cemetery in Waipu in Northland. I was also involved in organising a programme of mid-winter events. These ideas came together in a June Long weekend Matariki Celebration over several years.
I talked to the local Presbyterian minister about what I had in mind. Not a ‘churchy’ celebration, but a community one. Here was the simple programme:
- We gathered at the gateway to the cemetery, bringing flowers and greenery to put on graves.
- Heketini called us with a karanga, Fraser our local piper from this Scots community responded with the pipes as we walked over to the recent graves.
- The minister welcomed people and read a very short reading.
- He then read out the names of the people who have been buried here in the last year. We were invited to call out the names of others.
- We joined the piper in singing “Amazing Grace”
- We were then free to wander through the graveyard, placing our flowers and remembering who was buried there.
- The piper called us back to an older part of the graveyard, where someone from one of the older families told the story of their relatives buried there.
- A farewell prayer I sang the Celtic Blessing to finish the gathering.
All of this was very simple, it was advertised widely in a leaflet drop, most of the people who came were not church people. All spoke of it’s power.
When I left Waipu, there was a new minister, I went and spoke to him about this gathering, and how he could continue it if he wished, but as I was going, it would not happen unless he or someone else picked it up.
To the best of my knowledge it has never happened since I left.
Juliet Batten’s Book Celebrating the Southern Seasons is an excellent resource
Brings together Maori, Celtic, Ancient European and Christian traditions for the eight seasonal points of the year. This book has become a classic text and is used in schools, theological colleges, by celebrants and any reader who wishes to create meaningful celebrations through the seasons of the year.