A little over a year ago, a survey found 40 per cent of New Zealanders were keen to know more about Matariki and ways to mark the occasion.
On this day, the first public holiday to mark the Māori New Year, it's to be hoped that this percentage is much higher.
The same survey, undertaken by Bookabach of its client database, found almost a quarter were already seeking out what Matariki was about. Again, this number should be much larger as the first public holiday hove into view.
As is the case with many cultural traditions that stretch back eons, the meaning of Matariki has multiple strands. Each star in the constellation, known collectively as Matariki, has individual properties and purposes according to Māori tikanga or custom.
Worldwide, the constellation has different meanings to cultures such as Makali'i for the Hawaiians or Subaru in Japan. In China, it is Mao, the hairy head of the white tiger of the West.
For New Zealand, it is unique and special for a number of reasons. It is the first national holiday to recognise and celebrate mātauranga or knowledge of Māori. It will always fall on a Friday, offering a long weekend as a respite at the coldest time of the year.
Covid-19 has added impetus to the celebration. In March, the Government announced a round of support for local communities to build up tourism facilities with a special focus on Matariki commemorations.
The $16.5m funding targeted physical infrastructure to support Aotearoa's new public holiday. In this way, we are not only reopening from a pandemic, we are opening anew in the traditionally quiet mid-winter.
In this way, Matariki will be at the heart of many schemes around New Zealand as communities prepare for the return of international visitors. As they return, we will have an extra asset in our understanding of Matariki.
The next steps are to define what this public holiday means to us. The beauty in the principles Māori have delivered is that they are wide-ranging. It can be an opportunity to reflect on the past; appreciate our present; or to dream for the future.
As Hogarth Hughes told the Iron Giant, you are what you choose to be. Matariki presents New Zealand with this choice. In subsequent years it's to be hoped the understanding of this occasion will grow and new traditions evolve.
The potential is limited only by our imagination and willingness to pursue it.
Matariki will always be Māori in origin and essence but it can bring us to celebrate as a nation. Could we build a light festival to rival Fête des Lumières in Lyon, France? Or the great three-day Chuseok holiday of gratitude in South Korea? Or do we simply gather as whānau and break bread like the American Thanksgiving?
As we embark on this new star on our calendar, it is an exciting moment to relish, to consider the possibilities for how we mark Matariki and, in doing so, reflect on who we were, are, and want to be, as a nation.
Matariki hunga nui – Matariki brings us together.