New Zealand announces new Matariki public holiday

Sunday, February 7, 2021

The New Zealand Government on Thursday announced the creation of a new public holiday, Matariki. Matariki marks the beginning of the Māori New Year, which coincides with the rising of the star cluster Pleiades, known as Matariki in the Māori language.

The Matariki star cluster with known Māori names. (Image: NASA, User:PJ_1004)

At Waitangi, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said "This will be a day to acknowledge our nation's unique, shared identity, and the importance of tikanga Māori. It's going to be something very special, and something uniquely New Zealand." Ardern also said the new holiday would break up the over-4 month gap between public holidays in June and October.

The date of the Matariki holiday is not consistent from year to year, as it follows Maramataka, the Māori lunar calendar, but would likely always fall on a Monday or Friday according to Ardern. A Matariki advisory group has been established, with Māori Crown Relations — Te Arawhiti — Minister Kelvin Davis explaining that the purpose of the group is "to provide advice on future dates of the public holiday, how it should be celebrated and to support the development of resources to educate the public on Matariki and the celebrations". The first Matariki holiday is scheduled for Friday, June 24 of next year.

Ardern's Labour Party made the Matariki holiday an election promise, and won last year's general election with a majority. This result was the best for any party since New Zealand's 1996 adoption of a mixed-member proportional system.

This is not the first attempt to make Matariki a public holiday. In 2009, Māori Party Member of Parliament Rahui Katene introduced legislation to create a Matariki public holiday. While it was supported by the then-opposition Labour Party, the governing National Party did not support it, and it was defeated with 59 votes in favour and 63 votes against.