Monday, November 06, 2006


I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions this week, and specifically about the traditions we recognise here in New Zealand that are not our own, or that in reality have little significance for us.

Guy Fawkes is one of those celebrations. I guess that, as someone of English ancestry, I should feel some affiliation with an event that marks an unsuccessful attempt to blow up parliament. However I know little about the history behind it, and nor do I really care. It does bother me that I have to lock my cats up at night for a week to save them being scared out of their fur coats by some moron with a sky rocket.

It also bothers me that we are increasingly celebrating Halloween here. The Pagan origins seem pagan enough but the modern version just seems like a marketing ploy, another chance to sell product. I never remember to have anything at home to treat with, and even if I did remember it was Halloween I doubt I’d buy anything anyway. Last year I sat in the lounge and tried not to listen out for the door.

There are other celebrations that have little meaning for me, but which do have significance for people I know, and I’m happy enough to join in their own rituals. One of our friends is married to an American woman who loves to entertain. Every year they fill their entire house with trestle tables. Each guest brings a plate, and everyone marks Thanksgiving with this generous woman.

Some traditions we mark because they coincide with other important dates in our lives, and because it’s fun to do so. Hamish’s birthday falls on the Mexican Day of the Dead, so for the last two years we have had dinner at Flying Burrito Brothers. This year, thanks to an inspired suggestion from Leonie, we attended wearing sombreros and ponchos. It’s probably the Mexican equivalent of turning up in flax skirts with plastic Tikis around our necks, but no one seemed to take any offence.

Likewise we celebrate Valentines Day only because it’s also our wedding anniversary. We didn’t chose that day because it was Valentines, but because it fell nicely between the anniversaries of a number of people who were close to us.

I’m getting to an age where I want to claim my own traditions. Christmas holds no real meaning for me and I resent the overt commercialism involved. However Summer Solstice, and the celebration of the Earth it implies, is something I value and provides me with an opportunity to join in with the festivities on my own terms.

As we were watching the fireworks display in the harbour last night I commented that it was sad we don’t feel enough pride in ourselves as a nation to do something similar on Waitangi Day. Since being in Wellington we’ve spent every Waitangi Day in the Hataitai Velodrome listening to good roots reggae. The multicultural audience dances in the sun and celebrates both Bob Marley’s birthday and our shared culture.

Over time this country will develop its own celebrations. I can see a strong sense of culture in members of my generation, and in many of those who are younger. The increased tendency to recognise Matariki is only one indication of our maturity as a nation.

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