Maori woman dancing with a poi © Auckland Tamaki Makaurau

The spirit of new beginnings: Reflecting on Cultural Traditions and Celebrating Unity through Music

How the Māori New Year coincides with the one-year countdown to the 13th World Choir Games

World Choir Games 2024

It is remarkable how things sometimes align! The 12th World Choir Games concluded on 13 July 2023 with the handover of the Games flag from South Korea to New Zealand, the host of the next World Choir Games which will be held in Auckland from July 10-20, 2024. The following day, 14 July, marked the start of New Zealand's Matariki celebrations to welcome in the Māori New Year.

This serendipitous alignment might be seen as symbolically blending the global melodies of the World Choir Games with the ancient rhythms of Matariki and the next host country. It certainly suggests a unique and powerful connection.

This date also heralds the start of a year-long journey to the next World Choir Games. So, as one Games comes to an end and a new countdown begins, the spirit of Matariki arises and invites New Zealanders to prepare for this important time ahead, when choirs from all over the world will travel to the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ and discover its wonderful cultures and traditions.

Just as this synchronicity creates a resonant chord between two different cultures, it also reflects the very goal of the Games and the profound impact music has in bringing the world together.

Matariki: The Māori New Year and its shining star cluster

A cluster of stars twinkling in the sky just before dawn in June or July signals the start of an important celebration in Māori culture: it is Matariki, a special occasion in the New Zealand calendar that marks the start of the Māori New Year.

Matariki is an abbreviation of the words ‘Ngā Mata o te Ariki Tāwhirimātea’ (‘the eyes of the god Tāwhirimātea’) and is the Māori name for the cluster that rises above the New Zealand horizon during the early morning of the mid-winter months.

It is one of the brightest clusters in the sky and is visible across the globe at different times of the year. It is known throughout the world by different names: in some European traditions as the Seven Sisters or by its Greek name of Pleiades; in Hawaiian as Makali’i, ‘eyes of royalty'; and in Japan as Subaru, meaning ‘gathered together’.

While the Matariki cluster contains hundreds of stars, only about nine are visible to the naked eye, and each of these nine stars has a distinct significance and role in Māori culture. According to one popular version, the cluster is made up of a guiding mother or ‘conductor’ – also called Matariki – and her eight children: Pōhutukawa, Tupuānuku, Tupuārangi, Waitī, Waitā, Waipunarangi, Ururangi and Hiwa-i-te-Rangi. Respectively, they embody the honouring of the dead, the food of the ground, food from the air, fresh water, salt water, rain, wind and the hope of new life.

The Traditions: Matariki is a celebration full of reflection, unity, and hope

The Māori New Year is a time of remembrance, joy, and peace. It is a time to gather, to celebrate and to honour Mātauranga Māori – ancestral knowledge and wisdom.

Here, past, present, and future are brought together. We remember those we have lost since the last rising of Matariki, we enjoy family and community and give thanks for what we have, and we look forward to the promise of a new year while starting to begin to plan ahead.

Matariki Celebration today: Embracing the traditions in modern times

As the season of Matariki lasts through mid-winter, from late May into July, the actual dates for celebrating the Māori New Year vary according to tribes and geography.

However, from 2022 a public holiday to celebrate Matariki was officially established in New Zealand and, having been linked to the maramataka (Māori lunar calendar), it takes place on a predetermined day in June or July each year. Right across Aotearoa New Zealand, people come together to remember their ancestors, share food, sing songs, tell stories, and play music. Matariki today is about reconnecting with your home, your whānau (family), and your roots.

Look forward to the New Year and join the 13th World Choir Games next July

As we bid farewell to the current World Choir Games and New Zealand welcomes the Māori New Year, a new chapter opens, one that we eagerly await as New Zealand prepares its global celebration of the choral arts at the 2024 World Choir Games in Auckland.

Don't miss out on the incredible opportunity to be part of it – start preparing and get ready to make unforgettable memories!

Join in! World Choir Games 2024