What does Christmas mean to you?

What does Christmas mean to you?

To me Christmas is a time for family. It is a time for family to come together and celebrate being themselves, being part of a larger family unit. It is time to relax and unwind after a busy year, let ones hair down and have a good time.

I despise the commercialism of Christmas. I despise the insanity that is putting decorations up at the start of October in shopping malls, and all the fakery about being excited about Santa coming. I despise the horrible poppy versions of Christmas carols that get played ad infinitum on the P.A. system in shopping centre. Despite protestations to the contrary, all of this is all about $$. It is not about community, not about family, not about building a better world.

When I was working at Pak N’ Save, I despised Christmas and so did many of the other staff. It was a time of incredible pressure at work – do this; do that; can you do some extra hours – with grumpy customers, tantrum throwing children (and sometimes adults), harried staff and not a word of thanks from management. If the weather was bad and the fire alarm goes off in pouring rain, it was a chance to see people at their worst, which was perversely fascinating in some respects.

I deliberately write this with a bit less than three weeks to go before Christmas, accepting that from now until and including 24 December, I’ll be subjected to an increasing societal frenzy often known as the “Silly Season”, as opposed to the “Season to be Jolly”. This is the season of increasingly irrational people driven by all sorts of pressures. This is the season of people doing silly things, a spike of family violence issues.

It might also be the “Sad Season” because of a nearly annual spike in people being laid off – I cannot remember a year unfortunately in recent times when I did not hear about staff redundancies somewhere.

Or perhaps the “Desperate Season” where people are struggling to support themselves, yet feel the need to somehow appear jolly and be like they are having a great Christmas. There is no hiding the fact that for many people Christmas is simply an unaffordable time of year. It is supported by the large number of people and double income couples needing food parcels because rent and other basic costs drain the bank account as soon as the latest pay cheque arrives.

The Silly Season is also punctuated by staff Christmas parties where people let their hair down, and/or Christmas dinners which are more civilized/more restrained and everyone is on their best behaviour – supposedly. With the exception of one, mine have all been great. Unfortunately most years cannot seem to go by without hearing through the media of at least one Christmas function, normally the informal Christmas party, going awry, and of the consequences that followed.

Do I sound pessimistic? Yes. I try to be positive, but thus far, I have already seen most of the above symptoms being played out in public or heard about them through the social grapevine. Obviously I hope that nothing else in a negative way will happen, especially with all that is going on around the world. And it is in times like these that I have been inspired by stories of hope from some of the grimmest, bloodiest, muddiest times in the last 200 years – like the German and British soldiers who simply refused to fight on Christmas Day 1914 and played soccer, smoked cigarettes and let the other side clear their dead from the front.

I hope your period leading up to Christmas is okay and that you get everything you need to done without too much hassle. I hope none of you hear about anyone who has lost their jobs.

And when it is all over, enjoy the break until we have to go through the motions all over again next year.

Halloween is a non Kiwi rort: celebrate Matariki instead

Each year at the end of October I see people getting dressed up in all things spooky. I see pubs throwing parties to celebrate the end of a harvest on the other side of the equator. And I wonder for a moment just how many of the people celebrating it stopped to think about its (ir)relevancy to New Zealand.

Halloween to me is about as Kiwi to me as A.N.Z.A.C. Day or Waitangi Day is to an American. Its relevancy to myself is no better. I do not recognize it in any shape or form as a New Zealand festive occasion and thus have no problem putting a sign on the gate saying “No Halloween” or similar.

And when people mention Halloween, they say “celebrate Halloween” like it is supposed to be some sort of festive occasion. That in itself raises another point that I would like to address. The crescendo that builds up around Halloween to me is a dress rehearsal for that other big commercial con: Christmas, with its endless advertizing, excessive decorations of shopping malls. I look at the all the expensive gifts people get for family and the effort that goes into having a big family feast on a day that for many families is quite stressful and I sympathize with them – I honestly could not give a stuff about Christmas.

Maybe I come across as a grinch. Whoop de doo. Once upon a time Christmas might have been a family time, but now there is just too much money involved. I don’t so much look forward to Christmas as I look forward to the holiday period AFTER Christmas. There are times to celebrate, and seeing out the year/ushering in the new one I think is a credible one irrespective of culture or nationality. Which is why I am not so grinchy as my put downs of Christmas and Halloween might suggest.

We have Matariki, the Maori New Year in June – lets celebrate it. Lets have our fireworks displays then instead of on Guy Fawkes; a big public hangi with pavlova for dessert. Let’s spend the week in the lead up to it learning about the Pleiades and the Southern Cross. This can be our opportunity to bring all New Zealanders together our being. Lets make this as Kiwi as.

Sure it might be June. Sure it might be getting into the coldest and wettest part of the New Zealand annual calendar. We can combine it with the interlude that the Super Rugby has on so we can all cheer the All Blacks as they begin their rugby season. If we can agree on a public holiday for Matariki, then I have the perfect one for it to replace:

Queens Birthday Weekend. This is to the best of my knowledge not really celebrated or recognized by most New Zealanders as anything other than a day off work. It lacks any particular meaning – we do not come together like we do on A.N.Z.A.C. Day to pay our respects. We do not acknowledge it in the way we celebrate our respective provincial days. It is just a day off.

Would the politicians be up for having a truly unifying New Zealand day where we can celebrate all that is good and great about Aotearoa/New Zealand? I would.


A.N.Z.A.C. Day not a glorification of war

On Wednesday morning, thousands of people all over New Zealand gathered in the pre-dawn darkness to attend the Dawn Service, acknowledging the sacrifices made by the New Zealand Defence Force. They gathered to remember those that had gone to war and never came home, those that fought and came home bearing both physical and mental scars. They came to say thanks.

But they did not come to glorify war.

Across all of the ceremonies I have been to in Christchurch, not one struck me as vaguely promoting war or militarism. Not one failed to mention the horrendous loss of life and the effects on society that are felt from having lost so many people.

So, whilst we see plenty of coverage about our soldiers going away in the two world wars and fighting on foreign battlefields, I do not believe that there has been any effort to downplay the losses. This is irrespective of whether they happened on the sun baked slopes of Gallipoli, in the muddy hell of Passchendaele, the Somme, Verdun, Cambrai. It is irrespective of whether they died in the skies above Britain, at sea fighting the Germans or Japanese or in the Mediterranean theatre.

All of the ceremonies set an appropriate tone, sombre and respectful. The high losses suffered are shown in the number of war memorials all over New Zealand from little towns through to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and so forth.

One concern I had was upon finding out decades ago that World War 1 was also the “Great War”. It did not bother me so much until I started to question what I was taught about the war and whether those teachings were honest. On the whole I think my education has been relatively honest about New Zealand’s involvement in the wars. When I saw the phrase “Great War” several years ago, I asked and it was explained to me that the name is not from any descriptor seeking to make the war look good or grand in any way, but a simple acknowledgement that the scale of the destruction in the countries affected had – until World War 2 – no parallel.

I am further assured by the words of General TIm Keating, Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, who said that the ongoing and increasing popularity of A.N.Z.A.C. Day is not related to any glorification. Rather those that were children 30-40 years ago and now have children themselves who lost grandfathers and uncles, great grandfathers and great uncles in the wars. They are now wanting to show their children what it means to go to an A.N.Z.A.C. Day Dawn Service, to listen to the stories shared and appreciate what past generations have done for the country.

Like a lot of boys when I was younger, I was fascinated by war stories and the battles fought. I played computer games and read magazines from the bookshop. I participated in mock infantry charges and watched documentaries on television, such as “The World at War”. Whilst it made me interested in the how and why of battles being fought, listening to the stories of the service personnel who were there, one realizes that sometimes the real war was about surviving the elements in whatever form one found them.

Then I saw Saving Private Ryan. Any jingoistic ideas I had about war and the reasons for war were splattered on the floor when I dropped a half litre bottle of coke that I had just opened. Aside from the sheer savagery portrayed in the movie it rammed home the futility, seeing how it had marked Ryan all these years later as a war veteran. The realism was so strong many veterans who had been in France on D-Day in 1944 could not watch because it brought back too many bad memories.

And when service personnel come home from war, a lot leave the services. They go into farming, or train as teachers, or lawyers, or doctors – something more constructive than killing people. But they never forget where they went and what the saw. And whilst bullet wounds generally heal, the mental scars are often more impervious.

Whilst I will be pro-military, it is not because of a revision of my thoughts on war. It is horrible, senseless and usually started for reasons that are questionable at best. It is because no sane country leaves itself unprotected in a day and age where future wars are going to be about geopolitics and resources. I will be pro-military because the New Zealand Defence Force is an honourable and professional outfit to be a part of, and – despite the investigation into the fight in Afghanistan – does not believe in nor participate in the use of torture.

One day the Defence Force may have to fight. Like all I hope it never comes and that future generations of soldiers will not find their names etched into the cold hard gravestones like their forebears. But I don’t think anyone of them will be going to war any more enthusiastically than any of their many predecessors.


Time to revise New Zealand public holidays.

Over Easter the usual debate around trading laws flared up again. It is a debate that happens every Easter in New Zealand, but this year it took on a decidedly religious tinge as people wondered why the country largely shuts up shop on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Tourists in particular were seen wandering around looking for things to do and places to spend money.

That got me thinking about businesses and the Easter trading laws. At the moment New Zealand has 11 public holidays:

  • New Years Day
  • Day after New Years Day
  • Waitangi Day
  • Good Friday
  • Easter Sunday
  • Easter Monday
  • A.N.Z.A.C. Day
  • Queens Birthday
  • Labour Day
  • Christmas Day
  • Boxing Day
  • Provincial Holiday

I personally am not religious, so the three days around Easter, plus Christmas and Boxing Day mean nothing to me. In fact on Christmas Day 2017 we had a Christmas tree up but it was never decorated and it was taken out just a few days later. More interestingly, no one complained.

I also worked on Christmas Day – it did not terribly bother me. When I got home, got changed and freshened up I had a quiet afternoon with Mum and Dad. We had whitebait for dinner and Christmas pudding and it was nice and simple.

Whilst I can understand Catholics and Christians wanting these days off, I do not see why all of New Zealand should grind to a halt for them. We do not stop for Ramadan or Channukah or Diwali, so why should we stop for Christmas and Easter? Whilst it has been argued that New Zealand is a Christian nation because the Church of England, which the reigning sovereign is the head of, I do not think Christianity is the prevailing religion, and nor has it been for some time.

So, if the law changes I have no problems with that. My own proposals are to do away with compulsory closure at Easter and Christmas. But before anyone thinks that I am proposing to deny people time off for major holidays that could not be further from the truth.

  • A.N.Z.A.C. Day – the early afternoon opening will change to an all day closure; existing laws around the sale of alcohol would still apply – R.S.A.’s would not need a special licence to sell alcohol
  • The Maori New Year (Matariki) is in June – an acknowledgement of Matariki could be a three day weekend at the end of June; trading laws would be the same as A.N.Z.A.C. Day
  • ***NEW*** New Zealand Dominion Day 26 September and the Day After would become a day for New Zealanders to come together as a nation and celebrate who we are; under separate legislation our annual fireworks release would be moved to this day; only essential services would work

In return, the penalty rate would be increased to 2x normal pay for those who work on public holidays and the day in lieu would remain untouched.

A national holiday needed for ALL New Zealanders

Today is Waitangi Day. It is the day in 1840 on which Commodore James Hobson signed the Treaty of Waitangi with Maori chiefs. Te Tiriti O Waitangi was intended to give the British sovereignty over New Zealand, and the Governor the right to govern the country. The Maori view differed somewhat in that they had ceded the right to governance without giving up the right to manage their own affairs.

I cannot help but wonder what the non-English immigrant populations who have settled in New Zealand think of Te Tiriti O Waitangi, and of relations between Maori and non-Maori. Has any academic conducted formal kaupapa Maori research with leaders in Maoridom to see what the perceptions of their people are about the understanding New Zealand’s immigrant population has when it comes to the Treaty? Do they believe it should be kept separate from celebrating New Zealand’s overall identity?

But at the same time, who has talked to all of the many ethnic groups living in New Zealand, be they Chinese or Colombian, Fijian or Somali, Iranian or Serbian. What do they think of the Treaty of Waitangi? What do they actually know about the history behind it? Do they feel a need for a day where they can celebrate their sense of belonging in New Zealand.

On A.N.Z.A.C. Day many more people show a much greater degree of respect towards New Zealand as a nation. We turn up in our thousands to dawn services. The great/grandchildren of war vets wear their great/grandparents medals. New Zealand schools spend time and effort coming up to each A.N.Z.A.C. Day learning about the day and our military history. Media devote columns and air time to documenting new discoveries about our war time past.

Some people say A.N.Z.A.C. Day is a more New Zealand day. Certainly it is one of general unity. With one or two exceptions from peace activists who should have known better than to do so, it is protest free. But in the same sense that Waitangi Day is primarily about the Treaty, which has little real significance to those of ethnic groups not from New Zealand, how much do non-New Zealanders relate to A.N.Z.A.C. Day?

This is why I support New Zealand Dominion Day (26 September)becoming a day that all New Zealanders can come together on and celebrate our nation, our way of life. There are 364 other days of the year when Treaty politics can be debated, where iwi can debate the ins and outs of wrapping up the remainder of the grievance settlements. But a day when all New Zealanders, tangata whenua or not,come to celebrate being one of the brightest prospects in the international community is not that day.

So let us enjoy Waitangi Day tomorrow. I hope the ceremonies at the Marae go well . But let us remember Waitangi Day is not about ALL New Zealanders. And that there are other days on the calendar which CAN be.

A depiction of the Treaty of Waitangi being signed 06 February 1840.