Today marks the beginning of the Maori new year here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

For this is the first new moon after the reappearance of Matariki, the little eyes (mata) of god (ariki).
Matariki is the bringer of food, and so the appearance of this jewel-like constellation is greeted with much joy. It is also the home of god and the ancestors, the resting place of dead souls after they left the earth.

Matariki is known to Europeans as the Pleiades, and the Pleiades new year, beginning in late autumn or early winter, was known throughout South-east Asia, ancient Egypt, Sumeria and Celtic Britain.

 In Europe, winter solstice marks the threshold of the new year also. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, winter solstice falls very close to Matariki. This year it fell on June 21 and the two festivals are only seven days apart.

The return of the sun, the ripener of crops, was greeted with as much enthusiasm as the return of Matariki, also a food bringer.

The holly and the ivy
Now both are full well grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
In my book ‘Celebrating the Southern Seasons’ (1995 and 2005) I recommend that we celebrate our new year, not in January when everyone is rushing away for their summer holidays, but in the quiet of winter, according to the old traditions of both Maori and European. Winter Solstice and Matariki: the festivals of sun and stars, fire and food, uniting us in the land that we now share. This is the vision that I hold in my heart, like a seed tenderly nurtured in the winter darkness.