E ai ki ngā kōrero, he nui wōna ingoa he tohutia nei a Matariki, ā ko Puanga, ā ko te matahi tau o te Pīripi e piataata mai ana.
Ko tēnei whetu ā Matariki, he whetu whakamaumaharatanga mō te tau kua huri ake nei, he whetu e whakaatu i ngā kai māra nei, he whetu hei manaakitanga wōna kai kua whāngaitia i te tau huri ake nei. Ko te whetu e whakaatu mai ana te tīmatanga hou, me waihotia ngā raruraru ki muri.
As I inhale, I am reminded of what has been spoken accordingly to me, Matariki of many names, also known also as Puanga or the commencement of Pīripi, gloriously shinning away. Matariki shines bright remembering those that passed, the turning of a Māori new year, the year that nurtures and ensures our food resources are plentiful; the star reminds us to leave the burdens of last year aside as we encounter a new year.
Over this past weekend, I spent a few hours with the family enjoying the winter sun on Auckland's bustling waterfront. The season of Matariki had well and truly arrived. Events and activities celebrating the Māori New Year were everywhere you looked: one group learning how to make poi, others learning haka, still others enjoying cultural performances. The place was abuzz.
One thing missing from the festivities was even a trace of politics.
If New Zealand truly is in the grip of a Culture War, as many on the political Right insist, nobody bothered to tell the thousands who thronged to the waterfront on Sunday. For them, celebrating Matariki isn't about taking sides in some fraught debate over Aotearoa New Zealand's history or our national identity. To them, the debate is over – and, for many, like my kids, they barely grasp why it ever took place. Paul Goldsmith opining on the merits of colonisation sounds to them like something from a crackly BBC newsreel.
They are celebrating Māori culture not as an artefact to be painstakingly preserved, but as a vibrant reality of our contemporary national life – something Maori and non-Maori alike can embrace and unify around. Biculturalism doesn't diminish or divide; it expands and enriches our shared story.
Matariki also gives us an opportunity to showcase the uniqueness of that story.
Last Thursday, I took part in a new annual event centred on Matariki, which featured an all-star cast of Māori chefs preparing authentic Māori dishes. Rewi Spraggon, the Hāngi Master, organised the event.
Rewi is the ultimate Māori Renaissance Man, although he prefers the term "Māori-preneur". Aside from cooking, he is a gifted carver, storyteller, painter and musician (for which he has earned a Silver Scroll). He also found time to design the logo for Māori TV.
As we look to recalibrate our approach to the visitor economy, innovators like Rewi, who combine entrepreneurial verve with deep knowledge and respect for Te Ao Māori, can help lead the way.
Last week, the Government announced dates for a new Matariki public holiday for the next 30 years (the date shifts each year to align with the Māori lunar calendar and will always be on a Friday). Long weekends are welcome for almost any imaginable reason, but Matariki will quickly become something we all treasure. No disrespect to the Queen, but I'm picking it will quickly outshine her notional birthday.
Since long before the public holiday was announced, communities across New Zealand have been embracing Matariki.
Today in Ōamaru, the public library is offering free te reo lessons, while an estimated 800 people are expected to partake in this evening's Hāngi Under the Stars in Porirua.
Meanwhile, in Palmerston North on Saturday, families will gather by the Manawatū River for a light show, kai, kapa haka, Māori storytelling and performances. There'll be a fireworks display over Wellington and Christchurch that same night. The range of activities, from small towns to big cities – not to mention in our schools – will blow your mind.
The public has for some time been voting with its feet when it comes to the role owed to Matariki in our national life. The Government deserves due credit for making it official by way of a public holiday, but authentic, broad and genuine grassroots enthusiasm made it anything but a tough call.
There have been sporadic efforts over the years to rebrand Waitangi Day as New Zealand Day, as if the awkward politics surrounding the event is a problem of nomenclature. This was always misguided. Waitangi Day isn't a celebration, but a commemoration – and a densely complex one at that. And yet it serves an indispensable purpose in light of our nation's history, and the role the Treaty plays in that.
All nations need stories upon which to build a shared sense of belonging; smart and successful nations don't shy away from difficult ones.
Like New Year celebrations across many cultures, Matariki is a time for reflection, gratitude and hope for the future. It directs our eyes to the night sky, and to the stars that ushered our first great navigators to this land. It invites us to honour not just their journey, but all those who followed – by waka, ship or plane – in our common search for home.