What does Waitangi Day mean to New Zealanders? What does it mean to non-New Zealanders who understand the bi-cultural nature of New Zealand, but do not understand the treaty grievance processes? Does it mean anything at all or is it just viewed as another holiday?
Some commentators, notably Mike Hosking think Waitangi Day needs to be abandoned for an all inclusive New Zealand Day. And much as I am not a fan of Mr Hosking and his view of where New Zealand is headed, there is a case for a New Zealand Day. However that day is challenged somewhat by the clutter of holidays dotting the calendar. A New Zealand Day needs to be all inclusive and make people who have chosen to make New Zealand home feel welcome and wanted.
Waitangi Day needs to stay as a commemorative sort of event, but it should not be viewed as our National Day. New Zealanders as much as non-New Zealanders living here need to understand the process a potential agreement to make such a day exist would have to go through.
I have heard and indeed had ideas of my own that involve abolishing the Queens Birthday weekend holiday on the grounds that any historical context has been lost on New Zealanders who treat it solely as a long weekend. The 21 gun salutes that the Army would put on in Hagley Park, and the Navy in Auckland have long been stopped, though the reasons might not have been so much to do with public interest as complaints from adjacent properties.
However, if Queens Birthday were to be abolished, that only partially addresses the problem. The question then becomes what to replace it with. There are a couple of quite exciting options here – exciting because they have the potential to bring out what should be a New Zealand flavour to a New Zealand national day. The options are:
- Celebrate Matariki, the Maori New Year. This has quite widespread appeal because it denotes the Maori New Year, but also because in June it happens close enough to Queens Birthday that Matariki could replace it.
- New Zealand Dominion Day on 26 September. This is a few months later and is not very well known by New Zealanders. However there is a strong case if one stops to consider it, for being a potential Queens Birthday replacement.
We celebrate the Chinese New Year, which starts in a few days. It would therefore be not at all remiss to celebrate Matariki, the Maori New Year. It seems to be relatively well known to people and quite a few I know across the political spectrum think there is a case for a holiday or somehow using it to acknowledge an important event on the Maori calendar. A catch though would be getting people to agree on a date in June to set as a holiday for it, because Matariki lasts a couple of years.
With Dominion Day there is another good reason to upgrade the importance of this day. New Zealand often struggles with the act of behaving responsibly with fireworks. Whilst many want to see them restricted to public displays there are a number of people, myself included who think part of the problem is that because Guy Fawkes happens in November when the weather is drier and the day time longer and warmer, the risk of fire is higher. If our national fireworks day was moved back to September 26 when the weather is colder and wetter, it could be perhaps more safely had and not cause the Fire Service, Police and St John Ambulance so much stress.