You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
The matariki star cluster appears fleetingly during winter. In the Maori lunar calendar, the appearance of the nine stars low on the northeast horizon signals the start of a new year.
Matariki is full of possibility. Supported by stories passed down the generations, it is a time to remember those lost, to reflect on the past, and to celebrate new beginnings.
It is taught and experienced in schools, and it is celebrated in public events and get-togethers across the country. It is a mystery to an increasingly small minority.
It is a mystery, though, that it has yet to be made a public holiday in a country that, before now, has been wealthy and progressive enough to consider giving people more days off.
As time passes and modern New Zealand seems further removed from the traditions supporting the likes of Labour Day, it seems remarkable matariki failed to make the holidays cut.
Parliament has been under pressure to make it a holiday since at least the mid-2000s, when Maori Language Commission chief executive Haami Piripi suggested it was time for a change.
Mr Piripi did not say New Zealand needed another holiday. Instead, he said it should consider Matariki as an able — and hyper-local — replacement for Queen’s Birthday.
Maori Party MP Rahui Katene later drafted a private member’s Bill to make Matariki a public holiday. She told MPs it was a very special time of year for Maori, with many symbolic meanings.
What other days celebrate the indigenous people of our land, she asked. It was time to ‘‘treasure our past. New Zealanders will embrace it, we need to find things to connect us’’.
Her Bill was drawn from the ballot and was supported by all but the National Party and Act. National Party MP Simon Bridges said he supported her purpose, but it was not necessary to have a public holiday to respect Matariki.
A decade and a pandemic later, the Labour Party has revived the concept of a ‘‘distinctly New Zealand holiday and a time for reflection, celebration’’.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday confirmed the extra holiday the Government was considering as part of its Covid-19 response would be the holiday thousands of petitioners wanted.
It was a time to ‘‘look to the future as we take increasing pride in our unique national identity’’ — it was also time to add to, rather than swap-out, the days on the holiday list.
Matariki is marked at different times across the country. There will be plenty of consultation as to when it should be celebrated but whatever happens, it will help make a long weekend.
The argument goes this will boost the ailing tourism and hospitality industries — but this is also where the argument for Matariki becomes an argument against ‘‘imposing’’ costs on businesses that can ill-afford it.
National Party finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith says more New Zealanders want to celebrate Matariki, but that it should replace an existing holiday. Business New Zealand says it understands the cultural argument but that Matariki should replace one of the other public holidays. Act suggests Labour abolishes Labour Day.
A new holiday means new costs, and new costs will be a difficult sell in an economic environment made uncertain by a job-shattering global pandemic. This will surely provide the strongest argument against Matariki becoming our newest holiday.
Labour wants Matariki on the calendar by 2022. This will give businesses time to plan and for Parliament to consider whether replacing another holiday makes better economic sense.
And there will be the next hurdle, should it come to it. Which public holiday is less important or relevant than Matariki?