Bright festivals

by | Sep 5, 2019 | Seasons Newsletter, Uncategorized | 6 comments



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’?


Long winters

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.

Spring blessings,



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.

For further reading about the seasonal festivals, see my books ‘Celebrating the Southern Seasons‘ and ‘Dancing with the Seasons‘.


  1. Hilary

    Hi Juliet – those of us in the northern hemisphere forget the differences … I found the winter in South Africa difficult – the bright blue skies, but blisteringly cold wind – in houses not built for winter. Equally quite understand the lack of festivals and the feeling that those early settlers wanted to continue as they had done, not realising that a little adjustment would bring all into line as the ancients have done over millennia. Before settlers realised the indigenous peoples followed the sun as the year progressed …

    Delightful and informative post … the gentle season of Spring … and new life – cheers Hilary

    • Juliet Batten

      Thank you so much Hilary. It’s so interesting to read about your experience of the 2 hemispheres.

  2. Kerry-Ann Stanton

    I reached the same place Juliet with the need to mark Spring more joyously here in NZ.
    To that end I am offering a family friendly Spring Equinox dance on 21st September 4-5.30pm at the Blockhouse Bay Community Centre.
    All welcome for a simple opening and closing and lots of dancing in between. Arohanui Kerry-Ann 0274745003

    • Juliet Batten

      Kerry-Ann, that sounds fantastic. Spring is such a sprightly season for dancing. Thank you.

  3. Odile

    hello Juliet, as you know I don’t live in New Zealand but since I’ve been building relationships with your beautiful country, my big surprise has been that you do celebrate the same Anglo-Saxon holidays as in Europe BUT at the same times as we do in the Northern Hemisphere when your seasons are reversed!
    How is it that immigrants did not copy the northern winter celebrations with nature and the southern winter weather? How come they didn’t have the natural instinct to celebrate light when it finally comes at the end of every winter, regardless of the hemisphere?
    Seen from here, celebrating Samhain-Halloween, the feast of autumn, the celebration of the dead and the entrance into cold and dark days, at a season of birth, new energies and light where, in addition for the Anglo-Saxons, no pumpkins grow, seems absurd!
    Immigrants should have forgotten from the beginning the meaning and names of the months of the year and learned to live in greater harmony with the seasons and the nature of their host country. Learn to embrace and being enriched by traditional Maori customs and celebrations. Thus each season would be celebrated at the right time, whatever the hemispheres.

    More deeply, it probably reflects our natural, human instinct to cling to what we know, to secure ourselves by barricading ourselves behind our habits instead opening ourselves to others.
    On your lovely land, you better look north to let the sun caress your face, so if you keep your old Northern habits, you will never see the light!

    I was born on October 31, the month of golden and dark autumns. The month of switchover with winter. The month when light disappears to make way for long dark cold nights. But I love this discovery that on the other side of the planet, I was born in spring, in a season of new life, perfumes of flowers, bird songs and warm light!
    One day, I will explore these new feelings.!

    Enjoy your happy dance!

    • Juliet Batten

      Odile, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. Yes, we often ask ourselves why the festival dates weren’t reversed to fit the seasons. I guess the first settlers were still wanting to feel familiarity and alignment with their home countries. What a lovely threshold for you to be born on. One day you must visit us and enjoy your birthday in spring!


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