Northern Advocate Column

A holiday to celebrate Matariki, yes!

12 June 2018

When it comes to our public holidays I range from passable participation, boredom, to cynical disbelief―why are we celebrating that? Queen’s Birthday definitely the latter.

A paid day off is always great, but I want something more from a holiday. I want to feel. 

Christmas and New Year come closest. Who doesn’t like reaching the end of the year and enjoying a relaxing time with family. I get that. 

Northland Anniversary Day? Meh. 

Waitangi Day? I’ve enjoyed days at Waitangi itself, but despite attempts to establish the Treaty as a founding document for this country I’m too aware that it really was a calculated attempt by the British to claim dominion over this land. Too much post-colonial guilt for it to feel like a holiday should. And not everyone in the country seems to be uniformly celebrating the day, so it feels awkward, like a work function where there are unresolved tensions between management and staff. You just can’t quite get into it. 

I like the length of Easter, but chocolate eggs and bunnies mashed-up with the biblical story of Christ’s death on the cross and rising a few days later doesn’t do much for me. 

I understand that Anzac Day means a lot to some people. It’s the kind of holiday – commemoration is a better word – that I’m looking for, something with a depth of feeling. It’s just that the nationalist myth-making, the ties it still reinforces to Western powers, the uniforms and hierarchies, don’t sit well with my anarchist-inclined tastes. 

Labour Day is an interesting one. We got that in 1900 to mark the struggle by unions to achieve an eight-hour working day. But not much is made of it, really. A symptom perhaps of New Zealand’s working-class history being so successfully removed from our everyday consciousness. A kind of collective lobotomy, as if we’ve all been playing Mike Hosking through headphones at night. 

Our line-up of public holidays just feels tired and stale to me. Traditions and continuity are all well and good, but change is necessary too. So I’m joining the chorus of people calling for Matariki, the Māori New Year, to become our newest holiday season. A chance for reflection, hearty dinners and public festivals of art and entertainment. 

It should be two days off, one either side of a weekend in June. Replace the outdated Queen’s Birthday and then increase our public holiday count by one to 12 (still behind Australia’s 13). 

I have in mind a truly internationalist holiday. Yes, with a perspective indigenous to this land, but mid-winter celebrations are common to most cultures around the world. Under the umbrella of Matariki, celebrations could reflect the full diversity of communities that have come to Aotearoa. Some by following the stars long ago, others more recently watching movies on the backseat of the airline passengers in front of them.

It should be a holiday season that combines local belonging with a global consciousness. A holiday fit for that purpose is something I could embrace wholeheartedly. 

Matariki, it’s in the stars. 

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Poetry

Feeding the soul

In a small room,
a window to all I need,
my soul—yes, it has returned

—will be free
of policy and committee,
headlines and opinion.

I’ll cook away
at little children,
pulling recipes

down from the shelf,
adding in combinations
and portions,

tasting each child,
sucking its bones,
before throwing them

to the window, the discards
of an inner life
I’ll feed to overflowing.

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Poetry

Johnathan by the water

It’s Johnathan by the water
Flopping his hair like a seagull’s shiver.

His eyes are honest, so honest
He’ll tell you how it is
Hit you between the yellow and the blue.

He’s got you leaning into the wall
Waiting for you to fall.

He’ll smile and lead you on
His eyes are honest, so honest.

He’s Johnathan by the water
Flopping his hair like a seagull’s shiver.

He’ll hang you in the elevator
You won’t reach for the button
Because it’s right
Because it’s right.

He’ll tell you not to cry
It’s America and it’s built to last.

He’s Johnathan by the water
Flopping his hair like seagull’s shiver.

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