Christmas Day and the festive season are centered on family, whānau, friends and holidays. What does it mean however for us here in Aotearoa, from both a Māori and Pākehā worldview?
The idea of not using the word ‘Christmas’, which refers to Christ’s mass, his religious celebration, seems unnecessary. The religious meaning of the word does not concern most of us. For those of us who are not practising Christians, for those who are not religious, Christmas is whānau time and holidays. Family is celebrated. Non-Christian New Zealanders, celebrate this Christmas time as family time too and many have trees and presents. Family and relaxation are the main focus.
In 1814, Samuel Marsden held the first Christmas service at Oihii in the Bay of Islands surrounded by hundreds of tīpuna. Marsden spoke in English to his English Christians and to the Māori-speaking audience. The tīpuna had no idea of what was going on but appreciated the apparent happiness of the pale newcomers. They were more interested in the whaikōrero of their rangatira, Ruatara, recently returned with the tauiwi from Sydney. He spoke at the same time as Marsden, probably not translating and explaining Anglican theory and practices, but regaling them with stories of his adventures in Parramatta and the strange things he saw and heard amidst the Pākehā.
The first Christmas service was an example of parallel worlds, not clashing but happily co-existing: the one, a religious family, celebrating their leader; and the other, a Māori whānau whānui, celebrating the return of their rangatira, their leader. Celebration seemed to be central which is what Christmas means to most.
Alison Jones & Kuni Jenkins, Words Between Us: He Korero: First Māori-Pakeha Conversations on Paper, Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2011.
The First Visitors – how did Māori perceive their own world as opposed to how Pākehā saw the world?
Parent & Whānau Workbook, Pages 13-14