Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Matariki / Solstice

Matariki and Winter Solstice

While I was writing this article, the sun dropped to its lowest position in the sky and began to stay a little longer each day. Something deep within me says that we should be celebrating this event in some way, just as my ancestors must have done like the Russian performers in the above cartoon.

Many Kiwis feel a similar need and are increasingly celebrating Matariki at this time of the year by taking the opportunity to participate in cultural activities and to think about the year to come. Maori culture is rooted to the earth of this country and I am glad it reminds us about the place we actually live in and how the stars reveal a useful way to track time and the rhythms of Nature.

A few years ago, I used to fire up a Winter Solstice bonfire every winter and invite friends over for a mug of mulled wine, music and fireworks. One year it grew into a larger musical event and local farmers cooked a hogget on a spit over embers from the bonfire. The meat had been hung for a couple of days and it was so tender and full of smokey flavours, that it was hard to believe we were eating mutton.

I have often wondered why this sort of celebration was not more common here. One possible explanation could come from the fact that many New Zealand immigrants came from industrial societies where people were cut off from the land and encouraged to work night and day to buy things thought necessary for a better life. There was little time for much else, apart from holidays (holy days) like Sundays, Easter and Christmas that were jealously guarded by the Church. Another factor might also be our protestant churches taking a dim view of any activity that might be seen as ‘pagan’.

At one stage, I got very interested in Easter as well and when my daughters were young I took them out one Easter Saturday for some ‘Pace Egging’. This is a very old English custom that, even today, still sees musicians and singers going from door to door performing in exchange for Easter eggs and beer (in some areas Pace Egging includes a kind of bowls using decorated eggs which is also fun to do).

I rang around my friends and people I knew, to arrange for beer and eggs to be ready at each stop. My eldest daughter thought this was very embarrassing. No way was she going to dress up and do such a “stink” thing. But she came along anyway at the last minute.

After a few visits, her eyes lit up at the sight of all the easter eggs the other children were getting and soon joined in. We finished the pre-arranged visits and she got so enthusiastic she begged me to keep going. I agreed to do one more and so we visited Jeanette, a recently widowed farmer, whom I thought could do with some cheering up.

Jeanette was certainly surprised to see us and invited us in to meet some guests from Chile who were on a study tour looking at local dairy farms. We did our thing and the Chilean farmers jumped up shouting something like “Bueno, estupendo! Their interpreter came over and said, “Back in Chile We do just the same sort of celebrations every year - I didn’t know you Kiwis did such things!”

“Neither did I!” replied Jeanette looking very puzzled, “We don’t normally.” Perhaps it is time we did – to make the seasons mean something and get to know our neighbours a little better instead of pushing the ‘On Button’ to enter the electronic world of the computer and TV.

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