On a wet August morning last week, my readers surprised me.
I had put a question to those who had come from the northern hemisphere to live here in Aotearoa New Zealand:
‘What were the hardest things about adjusting to our southern seasons’?
To my surprise, several said it was our long winters.
Having spent the longest winters of my life in Paris and England, I was amazed. How could this be? On a Facebook thread, my readers explained that back in Europe winters were brightened up by a series of festivals, beginning with the Samhain pumpkins and continuing with winter solstice fires and various feasts.
The hole in the middle of winter
When European settlers colonised Aotearoa, they brought with them a Gregorian calendar that overlooked the seasonal difference between the two hemispheres of the earth.
By failing to bring winter solstice into its rightful place in June and instead leaving it in December at Christmas, they rendered winter bereft of this cheerful ritual. We missed out on marking and celebrating the return of the sun. Even on the threshold of winter, we have failed to bring Samhain/Halloween into its rightful place at May eve and have left it in October, peak spring.
No wonder our northern hemisphere immigrants have found our winters bleak and without markers.
It was only when one immigrant discovered Matariki, the festival that marks the Maori new year, and began to celebrate it that she felt a sense of momentary reprieve.
Restoring the balance
I am sure that many of you celebrate not only Matariki but also the June winter solstice and even a late autumn Samhain/ Halloween, because you have made the six-month adjustment that brings the European festivals into alignment with the southern seasons – and in doing so you’ve reinstated the joy and brightness of winter festivals.
What about spring?
[or autumn, for those of you in the north].
Spring is the season of resurrection. If our festivals were were following the southern seasons, we would celebrate Easter in spring. However, there are many reasons why the Church and other authorities would resist such a move. And so our spring is a season without celebration.
Odd, isn’t it, when spring is such a happy time, when nature bursts into life and celebrates of its own accord?
But how about celebrating spring in some other way? How about creating our own spring festivals, drawing on pagan traditions, together with Maori seasonal practices? After all, a lot of creative energy bursts forth in spring time and no doubt this will give impetus to your plans and ideas.
What might a spring festival look like?
1. It could celebrate the return of the birds – pipiwharauroa, koekoea, ririro, and later kuaka – in schools, communities, preschools and in families.
In our family the children have made pictures of the two cuckoos on pieces of card. We fly them away in autumn and fly them back in spring, saying welcome!
2. It could celebrate Te Koanga – planting time – with planting ceremonies at communal and private gardens, putting in the new crops as Maori have always done at this time.
3. It could celebrate green festivals for high spring – flowering and Saprise, with dancing, spring food, green themes, songs and celebration of peak growth.
How do you celebrate spring?
It’s a fitting season for community festivals held outdoors. What would your spring party look like?
Celebrating early, middle and high spring will ensure that it prances by happily. Why not try creating your own celebrations? It might be fun!
Do let me know what you come up with. I will enjoy hearing from you when I post the newsletter on my website blog page.
Ko tangi te wharauroa, ko nga karere a Mahuru
When the shining cuckoo calls, it is the messenger of spring.
— Maori proverb
This blog is an excerpt from my Seasons Newsletter. To receive the Seasons Newsletter, you may sign up on the home page of this website and receive a free audio meditation.