Although we haven’t really experienced the bitterly cold conditions of recent winters, for many people June isn’t the most enjoyable month of the year. Cooler weather and shorter days mean there isn’t much to get excited about this month, but for many cultures June brings a great deal of activity.
Members of our Muslim community have recently celebrated Eid – which signifies the end of the period of Ramadan. Ramadan is defined by the moon so lasts about 30 days and sees the devout refrain from eating and other activities during daylight, and a focus on prayer, reflection and a closer involvement with one’s community. Eid sees the end of these restrictions and is a time of feasting, wearing brighter or new clothes and generally celebrating. Some people exchange gifts.
For those from a Christian background, Ramadan has strong parallels with Lent, leading to Easter, while many paint Eid as a ‘Muslim Christmas’, although there is no connection between the two religion’s festivals.
Traditionalists often celebrate a mid-winter Christmas. If hot meat and stodgy puddings are your thing, Christmas in New Zealand can be quite an effort. I can remember my Grandmother cooking hot hams and turkeys and insisting we have plum duff, as that what you do at Christmas.
I admit the first time my family decided to enjoy a Summer barbecue Christmas lunch I did feel cheated, but realise that it makes for a much more relaxed and comfortable day.
For those of us whose ancestors came from the northern hemisphere holding a mid-winter Christmas allows us to reconnect with our roots and gain a clearer idea of what the significance of the pine trees and decorations mean when outside all is colourless and bleak.
Even if celebrating isn’t on your agenda, most people look forward for the shortest day which is always worth comment on calendars and news reports. While many cheerlessly observe that the weather gets colder after the shortest day, everyone can at least expect the days to get a little longer.
For those earliest peoples who relied on the sun as calendar and source of warmth the shortest day was a particularly special and significant day. Some cultures lit bonfires, some made sacrifices and most had some form of feasting. While in part to celebrate making it to the shortest day, most activities were to invoke whatever deity they believed controlled the elements to bring back the sun and provide suitable conditions for their crops to grow.
While this festival is known by many names, the one we are most familiar with is Yule, when feasting occurred and a large yule log was burnt, often over the course of 12 nights, hence also the 12 days of Christmas.
While these celebrations and activities have been around for many, many years, a more recent development has been the widespread celebration of Matariki. Commonly referred to as Maori New Year, matariki refers to the appearance of the stars known in English as the Pleiades. Maori, like all early peoples, lived in a seasonal cycle and closely monitored the skies for information.
With the arrival of matariki they knew that winter had turned the corner. It was a time of feasting and being thankful for the food they had gathered during summer. For many Maori it meant joining together into larger groups, rather than just immediate family as hapu and iwi would gather, celebrate and weather the cold nights together. For this reason it was often a time of remembering those who had died the previous year.
Winter may not be everyone’s favourite season as it brings cold and rain and with it all manner of health problems. Days are short and the garden looks sad and colourless. It can be a pretty miserable time of year, however there is always something to like about winter. It may be the opportunity to wear bright hats and scarves, or even indulge in such flavoursome foods as soup or hot chocolate.
For many cultures it is a time to be with friends or family and eat lots of special foods. So do what you can to embrace June and all that it brings, be thankful for another year, and always remember it soon will be spring!!
By Kathleen Stringer
1) Winter gives us the opportunity to eat such wonderful foods as porridge, oh and some play rugby in winter, as featured on this glass Sargent Dan porridge bowl.
2) While winter isn’t always the best weather to get out and be active, with the right clothes you can still have a good time. This image is from the Jennings collection and includes a warmly dressed Irene.
3) An unusual object in the Ashburton Museum collection, For those without garaging this lamp promised to keep your car from freezing.
4) ..although I don’t think it would help this car trapped on the street in Ashburton.
5) Margaret and Joan Jennings wear snugly coats.