The annual chocolate shortage (Easter)

Every Easter on the Sunday there is a temporary spike in the collective weight of the humans living in New Zealand. It stems from the massive annual splurge on chcolate treats that comes with Him having risen from the Cross 2000+ years ago. Except that I am quite sure 2000+ years ago when Jesus was nailed to the Cross, no one could have had the foggiest clue that it would be acknowledged as much by the dollar as by the Christians around the world.

So, enjoy your chocolate overdose tomorrow. I am sure it will be fun and that many of you will go to bed wondering whether that was such a grand idea after all, yet already thinking about how you can make 2020 even better. I will not be one of these many people – unfortunately I do not see Whittakers making easter eggs or other Easter related chocolate treats, and I have sworn off Cadbury and anyone else who uses palm oil. And at  the end of the day to me, Easter has become one vast commercial con where the dollars speak louder than the meaning of it.

Reflections on the purpose of Waitangi Day

On 06 February 1840, British Commodore James Hobson, in a tent at the village of Waitangi in Northland, signed the Treaty of Waitangi with Maori tribes (Iwi) from around Aotearoa. Thus Aotearoa became New Zealand. 179 years later, as politicians converge for another Waitangi Day commemoration, I have been contemplating a what the day means to New Zealanders. And I have been wondering in particular what it means to those New Zealanders who were not born here, particularly those from countries with little or no British influence and might not understand “Britannia” in a historical context or Te Tiriti O Waitangi.

There are 365 days in a year, and the day most likely to draw Te Tiriti O Waitangi protests is – inevitably – going to be Waitangi Day. And this has me wondering what our ethnic communities think of Waitangi Day, what significance it holds to them as New Zealanders. Do they see the protests and get put off; is it just not relevant to them – and if it is not, what day on the New Zealand calendar IS important to them?

I think this is a conversation we as a nation need to have. New Zealand is more than a bicultural nation now – to call it bicultural would be to undercut the significant and ongoing contributions of communities of people from Pasifika, Latin American, African, European, north American, Middle Eastern, Asian nations.

Next week for example is the Chinese New Year. I have a colleague from China who brought dumplings in on New Years Day, which were delicious. And I have been invited to and had to very sadly decline an invite to attend Chinese New Year celebrations hosted by friends this Wednesday coming.

Others of you will have been invited to attend Diwali festivals and other cultural events of significance to particular nations, which have all looked great in the photos on Facebook. Others of you will have celebrated the national day of the country you are from.

I look at these and wonder what a single unifying day for New Zealand could be.

As New Zealanders we come together on A.N.Z.A.C. Day to commemorate our war time sacrifices. But A.N.Z.A.C. Day is not a day of celebration of who we are. It is a deliberately solemn day on the calendar to recognize some truly horrible sacrifices and hope that we learnt the lessons from them. Yet, this is the day of the year we seem to be closest to each other.

It also makes me ask questions about whether new comers to New Zealand are taught enough about us. We cannot blame them for any ignorance they might have if we don’t first teach them!

But how much do these communities know about Te Tiriti O Waitangi? Are we as the nation that these people are settling in doing enough to make them aware of our national day, and for that matter, given the beautiful kaleideoscope of diversity that we now have, can Waitangi Day actually be called a day for ALL New Zealanders?

I personally am starting to lean towards making Matariki a big thing on our calendar. There is nothing political about the Maori New Year – it is solely based on the Pleiades, a cluster of stars which appear in June. Waitangi Day is a day to acknowledge our past and the fact that we still have work to do, but Matariki could be a day to have all New Zealanders of all walks of life, ethnicities and so forth come together and celebrate all that is good and great about New Zealand.

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.