Late November in Hawaii is the beginning of the Ho'o-ilo (winter or rainy season) season, which lasts about four months. In the moon-based Hawaiian calendar Winter officially begins when the Makali'i cluster is visible most of the night, rising at sunset and setting at dawn. The Pleiades will rise at sunset November 17, which is the first condition needed for Makahiki but the official start of Makahiki only begins when the first visible crescent moon occurs after the rise of Pleiades.
In ancient times, Hawaiian priests would search the night sky for Makali’i, a cluster of seven bright stars. They are also known today as the Pleiades. Makali'i in Hawaiian means "tiny eyes". The sighting of the Makali’i signified the presence of Lono, the Hawaiian god of fertility, and the start of Makahiki, the four month Hawaiian new year season. As Lono passed over each island, the Hawaiians would stop work, make offerings to their ali’i (chief) and celebrate. The Makahiki was a time of joy and prayer – for the prosperity of the land, abundance of harvest and good health for family.
Makahiki is a form of the "first fruits" festivals common to many cultures throughout the world. It is similar in timing and purpose to Thanksgiving, Octoberfest and other harvest celebrations. A similar celebration was observed throughout Polynesia, but in pre-contact Hawaii the festival reached its greatest expression as Makahiki. As the year's harvest was gathered, tribute in the form of goods and produce were given to the chiefs from November through December. Various rites of purification and celebration were observed during the Makahiki season. It was a time when all wars and battles were ceased, tributes and taxes paid by each district to the ruling chief, sporting competitions and contests between villages were organized, and festive events were commenced. Several of the rigid kapu (regulating religious and social laws) were eased or temporarily set aside to allow more freedom of activity and easy celebration. It was a time of rest and renewal in preparation for the next growing season.