This week marks the midpoint between the Autumn Equinox – 21 March – and the Winter Solstice – 21 June – here. It is also the week when ANZAC is celebrated. I feel like there is an interesting connection and correlation there.
(Since publishing this article, I’ve discovered Juliet Batten’s blog which I highly recommend: http://www.julietbatten.co.nz/blog/ )
Let me explain. I’ve always been interested in how the passing of the seasons has been celebrated in different places and at different times. Traditionally, in the north of Europe, midwinter and midsummer are big celebrations – to this day, people in Sweden celebrate Midsommar as much as Christmas! The closer to the pole you are, the more influenced these celebrations seem to be by the presence or absence of light. And they change over the centuries, to better reflect people’s actual activities and relationship with the land. I’ve had a look, out of curiosity, at what the traditions have been here.
It’s not easy to find information online on different iwi’s ways of celebrating the seasons, so I might have this all wrong, but this is what I’ve made out of what I found: The food growing year for at least some iwi started with Mahora – when the sap is rising and buds are bursting and new growth comes forth – and finished with the last harvests being stored away in Poutu-Te-Rangi – starting when a specific star rises (Antares or Altair, not quite clear). That’s basically September to March. But I couldn’t find any links to people currently celebrating these two events, or the ways they may have been celebrated, apart from Poutu-Te-Rangi rising was linked to starting to gather around fires again.
Then come the pakeha with their own traditions, linked to their origins. So we’ve got Easter, a spring celebration of life winning over death, which was born from the mix of christianity and previous local belief systems. Here it’s being celebrated in autumn, which to me is just… ridiculous 🙂 ! No offence, it’s not you! It’s the clash between the imported symbols used and the local seasonal reality. We still want to celebrate!
As with all cultural things, Easter changes, slowly, to reflect what people actually experience. The symbols still reflect the European joy over the first spring eggs and young rabbits or baby lambs, traditionally eaten this time of year back there. But they are ceding to the warm spicy smell of hot cross buns, roasts and pies (I saw a recipe for an “easter lamb and pea pie” on Stuff this year!). Kiwis are increasingly choosing to celebrate the seasons in more appropriate way, and as an immigrant it’s really cool to see such a young country creating its very own culture.
After Easter comes ANZAC, a very young tradition as compared to European ones. I can’t help but see the obvious links to Samhain/Samhuinn, celebrated midway between Autumn equinox and Winter solstice in the gaelic cultures. This was the time when people celebrated the ones who went before them, the ancestors, the wise, the stories of old. When the departed souls came back to give support or to haunt the living, so the table was set for a few extra people – both to welcome and to soothe. A time when the “veil between the worlds” was thin and one had to stay aware of different types of faeries or other spirits, make offerings to them to get good fortune for the coming year. It was considered the last day of the year, close to the 31 October in our counting – equivalent to 30th of April here, give or take a week or so.
Isn’t that fitting somehow? That kiwis are celebrating ANZAC, honouring their ancestors who experienced the First World War, at exactly the season when their pakeha ancestors, before they left Europe, would have celebrated theirs? When the darkness comes closer, when you know it’s not summer anymore at all, when mornings are cold and you need to switch the heater on, bring a hottie to bed… When all our energies draw inwards, plants die and for those of us who have livestock it’s time to cull them so the ones left have enough grass and space over winter… We’re touching death, listening the departed ones, connecting with the past, looking backwards…
For me this is a time to “take stock” of the seasons, the year passed, decide what to put to rest (compost!) and what to keep and cherish of the moments and experiences we had. We can decide now where we stand in relation to the world, with our ancestors backing us. More war, more peace? What’s worth fighting for, and what should we just let be? Knowing the past, how can we make better decisions for the future? There is such wisdom to gain from listening to elders and ancestors and simply to the darkness.
Why not light a candle in the window, set an extra plate at the table and have a conversation with someone you remember fondly, ask them to look after you for the next year, to share their wisdom with you. Or simply carve pumpkins now, instead of waiting for halloween (which is in reality a very misplaced Samhain!!), make warming and gentle foods, clean out the fireplace if you have one and start the fire afresh – another seasonal tradition.
In any case, stay warm, put your garden to rest, cook up some of your harvest to share with friends and enjoy the long weekend, however you choose to celebrate the dark season ahead!