What you need to know about Matariki

What you need to know about Matariki
  • Written by
  • Abby Beswick

What is Matariki?

Also known as the Māori New Year, Matariki is the name of a cluster of stars that appear in the night sky in mid winter. The two meanings of Matariki refer to the stars: mata ariki (eyes of God) and mata riki (little eyes).

Matariki is often called the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters in English. The brightest star in the constellation is called Matariki too – this is the mother of the other stars that surround it. In the traditional Māori lunar calendar called the Maramataka, the new year begins with the first new moon after Matariki appears in the sky.

Ancestral knowledge and wisdom are at the heart of Matariki. It is a time of remembrance – honouring loved ones who have died since the last rising of the stars – giving thanks for the present and looking to the future. Historically the stars of Matariki were also closely tied to planting and harvesting.

A special holiday

The Pleiades star cluster named Matariki is celebrated every year, on its first rising in late June or early July. This marks the beginning of the new year in the Māori lunar calendar.

Matariki first became a public holiday in New Zealand in 2022. The holiday date each year falls on the closest Friday to the Tangaroa lunar calendar period of the correct calendar month. This year, the holiday will be on Friday, 14 July.

How is it celebrated?

The rising of Matariki is traditionally a time of transition and reflection, when families get together to remember the past and prepare for the future. Festivities are typically held between late June and mid July and there are lots of ways to mark this midwinter celebration with your whānau and friends.

Traditionally, Matariki was a time for families and communities to spend together. People meet to share food and entertainment and look forward to the new year ahead. Often, loved ones gather to view the Matariki cluster. The best time to do this is early morning, just before dawn.

There are typically Matariki celebrations, events, exhibitions and workshops taking place around the country, so check out what is happening in your area. 

Historically, the next season’s crops were influenced by the appearance of the star cluster too. A clear and bright Matariki meant an abundant season ahead and planting should start in September. If the stars were hazy however, it was a warning for cold days ahead and crops shouldn’t be planted until October.

People looking up to the Matariki stars

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