Many Christians can agree that, in our bi-cultural nation, it is a respectful and appropriate move for our country to acknowledge the Māori New Year with a new public holiday. This is something that will be unique to New Zealand. It will sit alongside all the other holidays, with their own mix of cultural, spiritual, and secular backgrounds.
The generalised principles that are said to be at the heart of the Matariki celebration are certainly consistent with Christian faith and values: giving thanks for the harvest, looking back, looking ahead, sharing stories about those who have passed on, and enjoying food and togetherness with family and others. Just as Christians often celebrate Christmas, New Year, and Easter in their own ways, so too we can develop life-giving ways of recognising this new seasonal holiday.
Traditional Māori mythology saw the Matariki star cluster as atua (spiritual beings), and as providing for human beings’ health, harvests, seasons, and entry into the afterlife. In the traditional “hautapu” ceremony, food was cooked and offered to these stars, along with karakia (incantations) to them. Some Māori may still see it that way. Some see it as just symbolic of the close connections between the natural and spiritual world in te ao Māori (the Māori world). Many strongly Christian Māori address their thanksgiving and prayers to God alone.
For Christian believers all over the world, the stars don’t in themselves really have any spiritual life or power, or offer us any guidance or help. The Word of God teaches that the Maker of heaven and earth is alone the giver and sustainer of life, the only one to whom prayers may be directed, and the only one who opens the way to eternity. When we gaze up at the stars which God has created (Gen 1:16), including Pleiades/Matariki (Amos 5:8; Job 9:9-10; Job 38:31), we are reminded of our own smallness and fragility, and moved to awe and worship of the one who made all things and gave us life (Ps 8:3-4,9; Ps 19:1; Is 42:5; Acts 17:24-25, Rom 1:20).
May God help us to constructively navigate the opportunities of this new national holiday.
Additional information, thoughts and resources for Matariki compiled by Jade Hohaia (Māori Strategic Partnerships & Programmes, Wilberforce Foundation)