The maramataka is the traditional Māori lunar calendar. 

Like many societies, Māori traditionally rested in the winter, and were productive during summer when daylight hours were long and the weather was good.

European cultures also follow this pattern, holding a big feast and rest period in the middle of winter (Christmas).

But colonisation forced a European timetable onto a Southern Hemisphere country, putting our big Christmas break right in the middle of the productive summer period.

Re: News spoke to maramataka expert Heeni Hoterene about why she thinks we should have our break in the winter, and be productive over summer.

What is the maramataka?

It's the study of the Māori lunar new year. But it’s also so much more than just studying, it is a lived experience by practising taonga tuku iho (something handed down) and mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge).

I've been doing this for over 20 years. 

I married into a family that never left the land or the sea so they’ve never left their maramataka knowledge.

I'm really happy about this knowledge finally coming into the light, I think with the Tohunga Suppression Act in 1907 a lot of our kōrero had to go, and our traditional practices had to go underground like rongoā (medicine), or [Māori] midwifery. I'm celebrating that maramataka has become so popular.

How is it different from the Western calendar?

My first cousin lives in Switzerland. I've been over to Switzerland before Christmas. And it's just like the movies. It's snowing, it's picturesque, there's beautiful lakes, but it's cold. And it's depressing. So of course, the tradition in December is to give gifts and to come together. 

But continuing to apply those practices in the Southern Hemisphere environment when it's summer time, is absolutely senseless. 

How can we as a country actually be productive when we shut down at our most crucial time to get the work done? So trying to get a building consent or an inspector or tradies out to to work on my house that I'm putting a roof on right now is hard. Everyone's gone on holiday. 

This is why our country is not as productive as it should be. Because we're out of sequence, we're not following the right system for the actual environment we're living in.

In summer time there's more light and more energy and it’s the time to get the work done.

What would it look like if we hadn't inherited the Western calendar?  

I know there's no way my grandparents went on holiday in the summertime. And so we've really failed to adapt to our environment.

When our ancestors came from Hawai’i, they had to adapt to our environment very quickly to survive. 

It's only been recent that this Christmas idea has crept in. 

If we just split the holidays and have half the time off in summer and half the time off in winter it would make a better balance.

How would you like to see our year arranged?

I would like to see another two weeks added to the [school] winter holiday so we get four weeks over winter so everyone gets a good rest, as it’s the time of the year when people are prone to sicknesses, we’re depressed, the days are short and it's cold.

Six weeks [of school holiday] over the summer time is too much downtime. The six weeks was traditionally in place for all the kids that had to do the hay baling and farm work and it's not happening anymore so it’s pointless.

Maramataka planning is what I teach, I look at people’s strategies for the year and align it with the season and the moons. 

The reason everyone is so burnt out in December is because they've blown all their energy and never actually took the time to rest. 

If we had that extra break in winter we would enter spring rejuvenated and recharged ā-tinana (in person) and ā-wairua (spiritually).

What about the people who love having a big break over the summer?

People can do whatever they want but we’re always self-reviewing and reflecting.

If people were to try it, they’d see the benefits.

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