Tonight, December 6th, is the Full Moon for this month. But the Moon became “full” just now at 7:27 am ET even though very few people think about the Moon in the morning and will only observe it as “full” tonight. Well, actually a lot of people looked at the Moon last night or will see it tomorrow and say it looks full.
The December full moon is generally referred to as Cold Moon, Moon Before Yule and Long Night Moon or Moon of Long Nights, Oak Moon (Medieval English), Snow Moon, Moon of the Popping Trees, Her Winter Houses Moon, Big Freezing Moon, Frost Moon, Twelfth Moon (Dakota Sioux), Christmas Moon (Colonial America), Wintermonat (Winter Month), Bitter Moon (China), Heilagmonoth (Holy Month), Dreaming Moon and Big Winter Moon.
The American Indian names for the Full Moons are the most interesting. The Hopi call this kyaamuya, Moon of Respect I like the name used by the Wishram Indians of the Columbia River area of Washington and Oregon for this moon: Her Winter Houses Moon. I don’t know what it means, but I like it. The Zuni of New Mexico call this ik’ohbu yachunne which translates as Sun Has Traveled Home to Rest.
I realized recently that my interest in the Full Moons probably started by reading copies of The Old Farmer’s Almanac that my mom would buy.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac for 2015 is available for sale and I don’t know if it is considered so old-fashioned that no one reads it anymore.
My mom always bought a copy and I would devour its odd facts and weather lore and Full Moon stories and predictions. I’m sure it was one of the bigger influences on me as a kid that has stayed with me into old age.
What kid (or adult?) could resist America’s oldest continuously published periodical which is now in its 223rd year? They still claim to have 80 percent-accurate weather forecasts, but also stories about creatures from hell, readers’ wacky coincidences, how to make sausages at home, how wildfires’ affect our weather, love potions (yes, I mixed a few of those in my day), stats on things like what are the odds of almost everything, plus the sky and nature things I love to write about here like Moon phases, celestial sightings, tides, and gardening tables. It was something my mom used as one of my stocking-stuffers and it still works in that way..
This Moon of Long Nights is a marker of that time when winter cold had a pretty solid hold on much of our country, although this year the moon comes early. The nights are literally longer. That’s something that people have observed for thousands of years before they understood the reason it occurred. The long, dark night increases as we move towards the solstice because the Moon is above the horizon for a long time it has a high trajectory across the sky opposite a low Sun.
I enjoyed reading my sons books about the Moon and about science told simply. We liked When The Moon Is Full which had a cover very appropriate to this month’s Long Night Moon. It tells with colored woodcuts and poems about all twelve full moons of the year with the traditional Native American names, from the Wolf Moon to the Long Night Moon. It has a question-and-answer section with information about the moon’s surface, lunar eclipses and the true meaning of a blue moon.
The Moon, stars and planets fascinate young children, but unfortunately many of them lose that sense of wonder when gazing up at the night sky when they get older.
Of course, the same thing happens with nature and animals and the science of dinosaurs and simple chemistry and even that early fascination with numbers. These are all things to nurture in children, and the Full Moons are great opportunities to connect to that awe and wonder.
In December 2010, the Winter Solstice was also the Full Moon. That is an interesting astronomical calendar coincidence (though not unique). In 2009, the full moon arrived on December 31 to end the year, and it was also the second full moon of the month which some people erroneously but popularly call a “Blue Moon.”
This year’s full moon seems too early to be called the Moon Before Yule. Although “Yule” is equated with Christmas now, Yuletide was a pre-Christian winter solstice festival that lasted for 12 days. (Yule + -tide, “period around a holiday” from the Old English tīd, “time”). In Scandinavia, winter solstice fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. A Yule or Juul log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god Thor. A piece of the log was kept as both a token of good luck and as kindling for the following year’s log.
In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertilizer every night until Twelfth Night or kept as a charm and or as medicine.