Happy Matariki!

A cluster of hot, B-type stars 444 light years away have appeared over the pre-dawn horizon in the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s New Year! Woot!

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Public domain image of the Pleiades by NASA, from the Palomar Observatory

Matariki is the biggest star. She’s surrounded by her six daughters, Tupu-a-nuku, Tupu-a-rangi, Waiti, Waita, Waipuna-a-rangi and Ururangi. They have escorted Ra, the sun, north for the winter, and this is the point where they turn around to bring him back home.

The stars are very tired and hungry from their journey, and it’s only half-way done, so traditionally you should put down a hangi – a covered earth pit filled with white-hot rocks used to slow-roast food. When you see Matariki and her daughters you uncover the hangi and let the fragrance of hot roast kumara waft up to the sky for the stars to enjoy, so they know home is waiting, and they are joyously anticipated.

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A hangi before covering. Photo by Sarah Stewart on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Okay, so in the 21st century it’s really bloody hard to find a place to dig an earth oven, and also I particularly dislike kumara. Luckily I have discovered through trial and error that Matariki and her daughters also appreciate coffee and hot chocolate, so it’s a perfectly acceptable substitute to get up before dawn, drive to a high vantage point, bundle yourself up in quilts and blankets, and watch for the stars right by the new moon. When they first peek over the horizon you take the lid off your coffee and let them smell the deliciousness.

As well as bringing the sun back for the coming summer, the stars will do one other thing for you in return for your encouragement. You whisper to Matariki the names of your loved ones who have died in the last year. The stars will remember their names, and carry them through the universe forever. Well, for another 250 million years, anyway, until the Pleiades are dispersed by gravitational interactions in their little corner of the galaxy.

You can download three Matariki coloring-in pages here.



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