Matariki (Maori New Year) in New Zealand Date in the current year: June 28, 2024

Matariki (Maori New Year) in New Zealand Matariki (Maori New Year) is one of the public holidays in New Zealand. Falling around the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere (between late June and mid July), it was celebrated for the first time on June 24, 2022, although the holiday’s history is much longer than that.

Matariki is the Maori name for both the Pleiades, a star cluster in the zodiac constellation of Taurus, and the celebration of its first rising that marks the beginning of the new year in the lunar calendar used by the Maori people. It is a shortened version of the phrase Ngā mata o te ariki o Tāwhirimātea that means “the eyes of the god Tāwhirimātea” (Maori god of weather).

In the Southern Hemisphere, the Pleiades are visible for most of the year except for approximately a month around the winter solstice. They disappear in May and reappear in late June or early July. Their reappearance marked the beginning of the new year in the traditional Maori culture.

The celebration of Matariki was the occasion to prepare the ground for the new agricultural season, remember the deceased and celebrate the present. The Matariki ceremony consisted of three main parts: viewing Matariki and forecasting the prosperity of the coming season based on the stars, remembering the deceased of the past year, and a ceremonial offering of food (sweet potatoes, bird meat, shellfish and freshwater fish) to the stars. The ceremony was followed by days filled with singing, dancing, feasting, and other festivities celebrating life and prosperity.

Many traditional Maori practices, including the celebration of Matariki, began to decline following the colonization of New Zealand by settlers of European descent in the 19th century. The last recorded traditional Matariki celebrations date back to the 1940s.

The revival of the celebration began in the early 1990s thanks to the initiative of multiple Maori iwi (large social groups similar to tribes) and various cultural organizations such as the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. For example, the Ngāti Kahungunu iwi stared an annual Matariki celebration in Hastings. The inaugural celebration in 2000 attracted 500 people, and the next one reached an attendance of 1,500.

The proposal to include Matariki on the list of official public holidays in New Zealand was first made in 2009, but it took over a decade for Matariki to get official recognition. Shortly before the 2020 general election, the then Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised to declare Matariki a public holiday should the Labour Party be re-elected. The party did win in a landslide, but the official recognition and the first celebration of the new public holiday were postponed due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s economy.

The inaugural celebration of Matariki as a public holiday was held on June 24, 2022. The date of Maori New Year is not fixed because the Maori lunar year is shorter than the solar year in the Gregorian calendar; it may vary from late June to mid-July but always falls on a Friday in order to create a long weekend so that people can travel and spend more time with their families.

* date for 2024

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Matariki, Maori New Year, holidays in New Zealand, public holidays, Maori holidays