Matariki is a cluster of stars that rises on the eastern horizon in the early morning winter sky in New Zealand. It’s a sign of the winter solstice and is now marked as a holiday for all New Zealanders. Matariki means ‘tiny eyes’ or ‘eyes of God’.
Reading the stars was only one set of tools the ancestors used to navigate across the Pacific Ocean to Aotearoa. The stars also functioned as indicators of the seasonal cycles of the flowering and fruiting of trees, bird feeding times, planting and harvest times and the migration of marine and freshwater fish. The stars had a lot to do with survival.
The dawn rising of Matariki in winter indicated the completion of harvest and storage and directed people to look forward to the conditions for the new planting season. It was also a time to memorialise those loved ones that had passed away during the previous year and to contemplate learnings from the past year and to look to the future.
As a follower of Jesus living in Aotearoa, how are we to participate in this celebration in a meaningful way without diluting our Christian faith?
Recall what the Bible says about the stars and seasons. The stars are there to glorify God. They are not themselves to be glorified, or be given homage or worshipped. We are called to praise God the Creator of the stars, not to praise creation. The heavenly bodies were created by God and delegated authority to give light, to separate light from darkness and to act as seasonal indicators.
In Genesis 1:14-19 we read how God assigns lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years. Then God made the sun and the moon to rule in the day and the night and He made the stars also. And God saw that it was good.
In Deuteronomy 4:19 the people are called not to bow down to the stars. In Psalm 19:1 it says the heavens declare the glory of God and the skies declare the handiwork of God. Psalm 148 calls the heavens, the stars, the moon and the sun to praise the Lord.
In the New Testament the Wise Men follow and read the stars to find the location of the new-born king in Bethlehem. Matthew 16:3 sees Jesus rebuke those who can read the seasonal indicators of earth and sky but are unable to read the signs of the present time.
Both Māori and Christian tradition speak of the role of the heavenly bodies in similar and also in different ways.
So, taking all of this into consideration, can churches in New Zealand observe Matariki? If you ask me, yes, but with a different emphasis in regard to God.
As an example, some of us attend a kapa haka festival in Rotorua at this time of the year, named Te Kaihanga o ngā whetū (The creator of the stars). Groups from churches all around NZ come to praise God in the expression of kapa haka. We have woken at dawn, located Matariki and other stars in the morning sky, glorified God the Creator of the stars with praise, broken bread together, and contemplated the present days to come.
Let us celebrate God at this period of time to praise Him, and to display the manifold wisdom of God to the powers and principalities in the heavens (Ephesians 3:10).
Brad Haami (Ngāti Awa), is a Māori Christian leader, author, and lecturer at Laidlaw College.Listen to Brad Haami’s 2022 interview on Rema