A Time to Rest


Ho‘omaha (v. to take a rest or vacation; to retire, stop work; to obtain relief; to pause.)

Photo: Sylvia Hussey

Aloha mai kākou,

Before westerners found their way to our shores and introduced holidays and customs that supplanted our own, our kūpuna celebrated Makahiki during this time of year.

Historically, the approximately four-month Makahiki season begins when the constellation Makaliʻi (Pleiades) becomes visible on the eastern horizon at sunset, usually in mid-November.

Leaning into new research by Hawaiian lunar calendar expert Kalei Nuuhiwa on the protocols, rituals and phenomena related to Makahiki, cultural practitioners observed the beginning of this current Makahiki season last month (during the Hawaiian month of ʻIkuā on the Hua moon) with sacred ceremonies and protocol.

Traditionally, Makahiki was a season of peace and abundance for our lāhui – a time for relaxation, hula, storytelling, sports competitions and games. Crops were harvested, taxes were paid, and political conflicts were set aside. Makahiki was dedicated to the god Lono, who is associated with agriculture, fertility and peace.

It was a time of rest and rejuvenation for the land and for the people; a time to renew bonds and strengthen the pilina (relationships) between ʻohana, moʻomeheu and ʻāina.

I think about Makahiki and the inherent wisdom of establishing such a significant amount of time each year for the people and the ʻāina to hoʻomaha (rest).

The spiritual aspects of Makahiki reflect our ancestors’ intimacy with, and reverence for, the natural world and its rhythms. But consider, too, the holistic benefits of establishing a four-month season of rest for the collective physical, psychological and social health of the people. And then marvel at the genius of prioritizing this to such an extent that the entire political and economic structure of the society is built around it.

Our modern 24/7/365 western economic system would probably collapse if we shut down for four months – we all remember what happened during the lockdown in the early days of the pandemic. But what lessons can we take from the intentionality of Makahiki as a time of rest and apply to our lives today?

When November arrives, most of us begin preparing for the holidays. But for many, all the feasting, decorating and shopping adds kuleana to our already busy lives and this can be stressful and expensive. So instead of being a time of rest, reflection and gratitude, the holidays can seem more like an exhausting two-month sprint to January.

Why do we over-extend ourselves during the holidays? Because it is expected? Because we do not want to disappoint anyone? Because everyone else is doing it?

This year, instead of being swept up in the holiday frenzy, what different choices can we make to allow ourselves to enjoy the season and make memories with the people we love without draining our time, energy and bank accounts?

How do we tap into the ʻike of our kūpuna and the lessons of Makahiki and make time to rest, reflect and be grateful during this holiday season – and in doing so, reaffirm and invest in the people, practices and places that are most important to us?

Sylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D.
Chief Executive Officer