Matariki

The New Year here in New Zealand is marked by the beautiful cluster of Matariki and is observed around the winter solstice, in June. This is a Māori tradition that has entered into mainstream since approximately 2005 and is increasingly popular.

Matariki – Te Tau Hou is observed by the cycle of the Moon, which does not align with the months in the Gregorian Calendar, hence the date for Matariki changes every year. The established view in New Zealand accounts for the New Year being the sighting of the heliacal rising of Matariki just after the New Moon – Whiro.

In 2020 the New Moon falls right at the Winter Solstice, Sunday 21 of June.

The Moon rises at 7:26AM and sets at 4:48PM as observed from Wellington.

When a celestial object, which has been absent from the sky for a period less than a year, rises and is visible just briefly before sunrise, the phenomenon is called heliacal rising. For instance, the heliacal rising of the Pleiades heralded the start of the Ancient Greek sailing season. Heliacal rising occurs annually and the name comes from “Helios”, which is the ancient Greek name of the Sun.

Heliacal phenomena are obvious part of the basic rhythms of the sky.[…] a frequent application is for calendric purposes.

B.E Schaefer, heliacal rise Phenomena, 1987

The first day of the month for Māori takes its count from Whiro – the New Moon and most tribes observe the New Year just after the occurrence of the New Moon, combined with the sighting of the heliacal rising of Matariki during Pipiri (approximately June). Whiro is accounted as Te Tahi o Pipiri, which means the first of Pipiri. As with all oral traditions is difficult to piece together what people were observing 300 hundred years ago and from time to time other interpretations surface, such is the observance of the New Year by the sighting of the heliacal rising of Matariki around the Last Quarter – (or Tangaroa) Moon.

Mehemea ka tuohu ahau me maunga teitei’ | If I should bow my head let it be to a high mountain.
Māori proverb