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A New Year

In the tradition of the Maori people of New Zealand, a new year is just beginning. That’s because Matariki is climbing into view in the dawn sky. It’s a time to start afresh, to celebrate those who passed on in the previous year, and to harvest the sweet potatoes and other crops.

In the western world, Matariki is known as the Pleiades. It’s a star cluster that looks like a tiny dipper. It marks the shoulder of Taurus, the bull.

Its first appearance in the dawn sky has been a key moment for many cultures. In parts of Central and South America, that first glimpse has been used to forecast the weather and its impact on the crops.

It served the same role for the Maori . If the stars in the cluster looked sharp and clear, then a good harvest was considered likely. If they were fuzzy, though, it was a sign of a bad harvest.

The timing of the ceremonies varied from tribe to tribe. Most common, though, was to start at the Moon’s last-quarter phase after Matariki’s first appearance, and continue until new Moon. That put the new year’s festival in late June or early July. Beginning this year, the celebration is a national holiday in New Zealand. It was celebrated on June 24th.

From here in the U.S., the Pleiades is low in the eastern sky at dawn. It’s above Venus, the brilliant “morning star.” It’ll stand a little higher each day as the bull continues its annual journey across the night sky.

Script by Damond Benningfield

Today's program was made possible by Mercer Caverns, in Calaveras County in California's historic Gold Country.

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