Time for a look at our holidays

Matariki signals a time for change, writes Philip Temple.

The first public holiday for Matariki should be the signal not only for a new year, but also for a change to other national celebrations more fitting of a country in the South Pacific.

I grew up in England, so white Christmases and Santa Claus myths made sense. But when I arrived here in the late 1950s, it seemed absurd to be having Christmas dinners with plum pudding and cards with English or American winter scenes at the height of our summer. It still does. New Year makes some kind of sense because at least it marks the start of the calendar year. But its original marking of the northern Matariki has been lost. Another celebration that increasingly made no sense to me was Guy Fawkes, but the chance to explode a lot of fireworks has — just — kept it going.

When I moved with my young family to Banks Peninsula in the early 1970s, I knew nothing of Matariki but I did know winter solstice marked a major turn of seasons. So when Guy Fawkes time turned up again in November, I bought a bunch of fireworks and stored them carefully in the hot water cupboard. When the next winter solstice arrived, we invited a lot of friends to come and stay with us, built a big bonfire in the adjacent section, brewed some gluhwein, roasted potatoes in the embers, and let off the fireworks. It all seemed so right and a great time was had by all.

So, for starters, it is about time we ditched Guy Fawkes and began thinking about our own gunpowder plot to blow up out-of-date and out-of-location celebrations. First, let’s have a proper New Year holiday for schools around Matariki. Second, readjust summer school holidays to the most logical time — the end of January until the beginning of March. Keep Christmas-New Year as a short mid-term-type of holiday, like it is in the northern hemisphere.

Many people still value and observe the religious traditions attached to Christmas but we need to dial back on the strictly commercial exploitation of the birth of Christ that has overtaken its faith-based expression.

But, since I would not like to face the wrath of the many New Zealanders with Scottish ancestry, let’s just leave Hogmanay where it is, eh?

Matariki is described as a time to consider the past and the lives of our ancestors, as well as for planning and planting for our future.

Let’s go for changes that suit us, not the north, and, while we are at it, also begin planning for the republic that will become inevitable after Queen Elizabeth II dies.

Let’s go for it.

 -  Dr Philip Temple is a Dunedin author and historian.

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