Moon Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival  is a popular harvest festival celebrated by Chinese people and dates back over 3,000 years to moon worship in China. It is also referred to as also known as the Moon Festival, or in Chinese, Zhongqiu Jie (traditional Chinese: 中秋節), or the Lantern or Mooncake Festival.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is usually around  late September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. For 2009, it is today, October 3.

It is one of the two most important holidays in the Chinese calendar, the other being the Chinese New Year. It is a legal holiday in several countries.

Farmers celebrate the end of the summer harvesting season on this date.

mooncakes
mooncakes

Traditionally, on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, and eat moon cakes and pomeloes (Chinese grapefruit) outside under the moon. Carrying brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, and floating sky lanterns is also popular.

In ancient China, emperors followed the rite of offering sacrifices to the sun in spring and to the moon in autumn.  Later aristocrats and literary figures helped expand the ceremony to common people who enjoyed the full, bright moon on that day, worshipped it and expressed their thoughts and feelings under it.

It is a date that parallels the autumn and spring Equinoxes of the solar calendar, when the moon is supposedly at its fullest and roundest.

chang-e
Chang'e

Another tradition is burning incense in reverence to deities including Chang’e, the Chinese goddess of the moon.

Unlike many lunar deities in other cultures who personify the moon, Chang’e only lives on the moon. The lunar crater “Chang’e 1” is named after her.

Chang’e is the subject of several legends in Chinese mythology, most of which incorporate several of the following elements: Houyi the Archer, a benevolent or malevolent emperor, an elixir of life, and of course, the moon.

Full Moons and New Moons

I have been writing here about each of the full moons and what they mean in different cultures.  There must be an interest in the topic because they are consistently in the top posts for the site. In looking at my lunar calendar for the upcoming month, it occurred to me that there are probably some readers who don’t really know what the difference is between a full moon and a new moon.

We have a new moon coming up on October 18th.

newmoonTo astronomers, the phrase “new moon” means the lunar phase that occurs when the Moon, in its monthly orbital motion around Earth, lies between the Earth and the Sun. Therefore, it is said that it is “in conjunction” with the Sun as seen from Earth.

The dark (unilluminated) portion of the Moon faces almost directly towards us on  Earth, so the Moon is not visible to the naked eye.

If you search online, you may find photos that address the original meaning of the phrase new moon. That would be when first visible crescent of the Moon is seen.

That is a rather imprecise event because it takes place over the western horizon in a brief period between sunset and moonset. Therefore the exact time/date of this appearance would be based on your geographical location.

So, to be astronomical, this “dark moon” occurs when the Moon is invisible from the Earth. That moment when it is in conjunction does not depend on location.

Culturally, the first crescent marks the beginning of the month in lunar calendars such as the Muslim calendar, and in lunisolar calendars such as the Hebrew calendar, Hindu calendars, and Buddhist calendar. In the Chinese calendar, the beginning of the month is marked by the dark moon.

In the Hindu (Indian) calender, it is believed that new moons can create negative changes in the mental plane. The goddess Kali is worshiped on new moon night to relax these fluctuations.

Some Chinese Buddhists keep a vegetarian diet on the new moon and full moon each month.

The new moon signifies the start of every Jewish month, and is considered an important date and minor holiday in the Hebrew calendar.

The new moon is also an important event in the neopagan, nature-based religion, Wicca.  Each full moon, and in some cases a new moon, is marked with a ritual called an Esbat.

In astrology, the casting of an astrological chart or horoscope is actually a representation of celestial entities – the position of the Sun, Moon, and planets – at the moment of the event (such as a birth).

The proper English name for Earth’s natural satellite is, simply, the Moon (capitalized). Moon is a Germanic word, related to the Latin mensis (month).  In English, the word moon exclusively meant Earth’s moon until 1665. Then,  the word was extended to refer to the recently discovered natural satellites of other planets, which were given distinct names in order to avoid confusion.

Lunar_libration_phases_ani
lunar libration

Autumnal Equinox

It’s fall – or it’s spring – depending on where you are when you read this today.

The Autumnal Equinox 2009 will occur today, September 22, at  21:18 UTC (17:18 EDT or 14:18 PDT).

To scientists, an equinox is either of two points on the celestial sphere where the ecliptic and the celestial equator intersect.

To most of us, it’s one of two times a year when the Sun crosses the equator, and the day and night are of approximately equal length. When the Sun passes this point, on about 23 September each year, nights begin to grow longer than days, and continue to do so until the Winter Solstice in December

During today’s autumnal equinox, the Sun appears to cross the celestial equator, from north to south. We mark this time as the beginning of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. On the other side of the globe, yesterday marked the start of spring with their vernal equinox.

During the next 3 months, the sun will continue to shift southward, bringing cooler weather to the Northern Hemisphere, and warmer weather to the Southern Hemisphere.

Is a solstice just another word for an equinox? No. The Summer and Winter Solstices mark when the Sun is farthest north or south and the length of time between Sunrise and Sunset is the shortest of the year while the equinoxes mark the equal points in between.

For more information more about why we have changing seasons, go to crh.noaa.gov/fsd/astro/season.php.

Moon of Corn, Moon of Harvest

indiancorn-sm

Native Americans often marked what we consider to be the September full moon as the Corn Moon because it was when corn was supposed to be harvested.

Actually, corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and wild rice, which were the chief Native American staples were all ready for gathering. It was a good and bountiful time in most years.

Sometimes, the September full moon is called the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon is the one that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years, like this year, it occurs in October. The equinox occurs on September 22, at 5:19 P.M. EDT, so the full moon on October 4th will be the Harvest Moon this year.

As viewed in the northern hemisphere, the full moons of September, October and November generally rises about 50 minutes later each day, as it moves in orbit around Earth.

Have you ever noticed that all full moons rise around the time of sunset?

The Buck Moon

deer-velvet

The full moon of July is most commonly known as the Buck Moon in many Native American traditions. July is normally the month when the new antlers of buck deer push out of their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur.

It was also called the Thunder Moon because of the frequency of thunderstorms during this hot, dry month.

To the early settlers, the nature signs they used to mark the full moons were generally related to their farming. This moon was often called the Full Hay Moon. This may be derived from the fact that the brightness of the moon allows one to harvest hay in the cool of the night rather than the heat of the day.

This year, the July moon appears on Tuesday, July 7 at 5:21 a.m. EDT.  Since the moon “arrives” at apogee later, this will also be smallest full moon of 2009.  In terms of apparent size, it will appear 12%  smaller than the full moon of January 1, 2009.

Full Moons

img-b-moon

There is something about the moon. I have posted this year about every full moon and tried to explain the Native American names for each one and other European names for them too.

We are halfway through the year and the post on the “Wolf Moon” continues to be read/hit/found more than any other, but all the full moon posts find an audience. They are hardly my best posts, but they are popular.

crocusesMaybe it’s an indication that people are regaining some awareness for the signs in nature.

I know I am more attuned to the moon phases. Even more so, I pay attention to the signs from the budding, blooming and fruiting of plants and trees  and to the behaviors of insects and animals.

Part of that interest comes from being a gardener. Part of it also comes from writing, especially poetry. Haiku are especially good about making you pay attention to a blossom or activity that can identify the season.)