snow moon

The last full moon of 2012 rose this morning (Dec. 28, at 5:21 a.m. EST, 1021 GMT) but almost everyone thinks of it as occurring tonight when it appears at %:19p.m. here in Paradelle.

We also generally think of it as a daylong event. To many people the moon looks “full” for a day or two before and after the event.

That big old Moon looks big and it is big. According to Starry Night Education, our moon is very large in proportion to Earth, more than any other moons in the solar system except for Pluto’s moon Charon. But because other planets are larger than Earth, several of their moons are much larger than ours, including three of Jupiter’s moons (Io, Ganymede, and Callisto) and one of Saturn’s (Titan). Of these, Ganymede is the largest at 3,270 miles (5,262 km), slightly larger than the planet Mercury. (Jupiter made a nice appearance this week beside the moon in our night sky.)

The Native American Cherokee people called this the Snow Moon, as did the Medieval English. the Snow Moon is the full moon when the first snows fall in the mountains. In Cherokee tradition, Vsgiyi, the spirit being or “Snow Man”, brings the cold and snow for the earth to cover the high places while the earth rests until the rebirth of the seasons in the Windy Moon of our March. Families traditionally were busy putting up and storing goods for the next cycle of seasons. Elders enjoyed teaching and retelling ancient stories of the people to the young.

Last year, I chose the Moon of Long Nights as the name to feature, but there are always many names that different cultures have given to this first true winter moon: Cold Moon, Long Night Moon (neo-pagan), Oak Moon (Druid), Snow Moon, Moon of the Popping Trees, Her Winter Houses Moon, Big Freezing Moon, Frost Moon, Moon Before Yule, Oak Moon, Twelfth Moon (Dakota Sioux), Christmas Moon (Colonial America), Wintermonat (Winter Month), Bitter Moon (China), Dreaming Moon and Big Winter Moon.

The calendar month of December has many ancient traditions. It was the tenth month on the old Roman calendar and the time for the serious partying of Saturnalia. The Franks called it Heilagmanoth, or Holy Month, because of its large number of sacred festivals. On the old Tibetan calendar, December 1 was the beginning of a new year, so this was the first Full Moon of their year.