Matariki holiday full of possibility

On the eve of our first Matariki public holiday, it is too early to tell how many of us might celebrate this day.

As we said before the decision was made to introduce the holiday, Matariki is full of possibility.

Supported by stories passed down the generations, it is a time to remember those who have died and how they have impacted on our lives, to reflect on the past and to celebrate new beginnings. It is also a time to consider the importance of the environment and the nurture of it.

The holiday marks the beginning of the Maori New Year, according to the traditional Maori calendar.

For those lucky enough to have a day off, some may merely be looking forward to snuggling under the duvet for an unfamiliar Friday sleep-in, while others will make it a family day to share kai and memories or to attend special Matariki events, and there may be some who might simply relish the moment to stop and stare in awe at the dawn or night sky.

Because the holiday occurs in winter, the time of long nights, short days and warm clothing, it is well suited to contemplation, unlike our New Year public holiday with its summer fizz and freneticism.

Whatever we do, it will take time for the new holiday to embed and for families not familiar with the occasion to develop their own ways of marking it.

Associate Minister for Culture and Arts Kiritapu Allan sees the holiday as providing a unique new opportunity to embrace our distinctive national identity, helping to establish our place as a modern Pacific nation.

It would be good if that embrace could omit the rampant commercialisation of some of our other public holidays, particularly Christmas and Easter.

Those keen to celebrate the day with fireworks struck the wrong note with the advisory group guiding the Government on the new holiday.

It is hoped Matariki escapes the rampant commercialisation of some other public holidays. PHOTO:...
It is hoped Matariki escapes the rampant commercialisation of some other public holidays. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Fireworks do not align with a core value of Matariki — mana taiao (environmental awareness) — as they pollute the night sky with light and noise and can litter the sea with debris.

It also seems odd, when stars are being celebrated, to be adding something artificial to the sky rather than observing what is already there.

Other controversy about the new holiday has involved the impact of the cost of a 12th public holiday on businesses, which are still struggling as the Covid-19 pandemic rolls on.

It has been estimated that the public holiday could cost businesses up to $448 million.

An unintended consequence of having a holiday on a Friday, rather than a Monday, is that it will increase wage costs for those hospitality outlets which might usually close on Mondays and so not usually be up for paying penal rates.

Whether another public holiday should be removed is something which may need further consideration.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon provocatively suggested Labour Day should go, although later said it was a joke.

Such a change would have meant workers would go six months without a public holiday, something unlikely to find favour.

One suggested option is for regional public holidays to go. In Otago, our Anniversary Day has been a shambles for years, with some celebrating it on the actual day and others adding it to Easter holidays to give workers a longer break.

Removing Queen’s Birthday is another possibility, because it also occurs in June, but it would seem undiplomatic to do that while the monarch still reigns, and it would have been particularly churlish to cancel it in the year of her platinum jubilee.

But such questions are for another day. Tomorrow, we have the chance to take the possibility Matariki offers for reflection, celebrating with whanau and friends, and looking forward with hope.

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