Food Festivals
Ian Thomas Photo: Florence Charvin

Whether it’s a music festival or a motor racing festival there’s always food. Food is at the centre of any and nearly every gathering of any import. From the weekly market to the annual congress of pilgrims at Womad. 

Food is the backbone. The memory of the vegetable pakoras is recalled with much greater clarity than the Moldovian marimba maestro’s performance. There are, of course, self-proclaimed food festivals where food is celebrated as headline acts while being supported by live music. Let’s agree the world loves festivals mainly for feasting. Cross-cultural joyful communing has stood the test of time. 

So, I wonder, why aren’t we doing more of it during the winter in Hawke’s Bay? We live in the food basket of the country so where is our own winter food-focused festival?

The ultra-woke among you will be grinding your teeth at the impending religious, cultural, and seasonal appropriation-gone-mad occurrence that is the Mid-Winter Christmas. It is one of the more bizarre pretend games played by adults who yearn for the northern hemisphere cold weather ‘traditional’ Christmas … snow flakes and all. By traditional I mean the coming together of groups of Brits in order to gobble up the most traditional of all British food: the American turkey.

It’s my firm(ish) belief that the whole event is nothing more than an elaborate ploy to glorify the Brussel sprout. Is it not the only event of the year at which the mini brassica is elevated to gourmet status? Some recipes even suggest sautéing the unlikely hero with bacon! 

The Frankinsteinesque celebration is now tradition. Why? Well it’s not for religious reasons so my guess is chest-puffing nationalism, but I can also see that the MWC is just an excuse to commune with friends and family and have some fun whilst feasting. It’s hard not to like. The MWC is the perfect off-season accompaniment to the summer event where Santa wears winter clothes aboard his sleigh and sweats like a fat butcher with a blunt knife in the midday sun.

Most importantly the MWC Sprout Fest is easy because we all know what to do. We are familiar with the skeleton of the menu and we understand that a suitably gauche jumper should be worn along with a tight paper hat. Take along a secret santa gift, the ageing pudding from the back of the cupboard that was overlooked in a December many years ago, and enough bottles of social lubricant to ease the feeling of silliness and you’re done.

What of genuine mid-winter festivals in Hawke’s Bay? The solstice, Yule, and most importantly Matariki. 

Well many of us don’t really know what to do in order to celebrate these events. Even though their credibility is far higher than the MWC Bread Sauce Extravaganza, there is a feeling of discomfort with a lack of expertise in celebrating them. So either there’s no attempt to celebrate them at all or we awkwardly dip our toes in and try to learn the kaupapa. 

Matariki is a meaningful and relevant event. The perfect mid-winter occasion to warm ourselves with community and family gatherings. At the heart of Matariki is a mindfulness and remembrance of times past and of those who have gone before, of harvests gathered, and thoughts of growth to come. A reverence exists in Matariki to which all of the Brussels sprouts in Christendom can’t hold a candle. Let’s celebrate it then! You cry.

But how shall we celebrate? With food of course!

Matariki celebrations were largely absent for fifty years or so at the end of the twentieth century. Local man Te Rangi Huata, backed by Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi, played a major role in rekindling the dying fires of the event for the nation in 2000. Iwi and community-led celebrations continue across the region.

Matariki is our opportunity to get real and enjoy our own country’s festival.

I suggest to the good revellers of Aotearoa and particularly Hawke’s Bay that 2021 is the year to light those figurative and literal fires and join the Matariki celebrations. After all this is the year that we’re all at home. Go to a public celebration or host your own feast. A quick internet search will reveal the story of Matariki history and celebrations. Use this as the skeleton and hang your own meat on its bones.

You don’t have to ditch the pretense, brandy butter, and the dress-up games of MWC. I’m keen to sacrifice a goat to mark the solstice. I enjoy Queen’s Birthday celebrations just as much as the next fervent anti-royalist. I, however, prefer and love the earthy, inclusive beauty of Matariki and its celebration of our unique time and space.

We’ve held a Matariki gathering in our hood for the last three years. We wanted to spread the tradition but we didn’t have any experience so we organised a potluck meal and a sharing table for produce and preserves. Families came and flames crackled and of course we shared food. There’s no surprise that gathering to share food and contemplate makes for a popular event. It’s a very old formula.

So you can take your Brussels sprouts, your pavs, and your figgy pudding, and you can bring them to a Matariki potluck. Start with your family and your neighbours. Gobble it up and start making your own traditions.

Officially Matariki ends 11 July this year. But don’t let that stop you from celebrating later. What’s important is creating a tradition! 


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