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By a commonly accepted definition, a supermoon has to come within 225,027 miles (362,146 km) of Earth.  They are not that rare and happen every few months. The Full Moons January 1 and 31, 2018, count as supermoons, and we can call the January 31 Moon a Blue Moon (a second in the same month).

It is a rarer occurrence that the new year is bookended by Full Moons on the first and last day and that both are “supermoons.” That popularized term is used to describe a new or full moon that occurs at roughly the same time the moon is nearest Earth (perigee) in its monthly orbit.

This New Year’s Day Full Moon is most often called the Wolf Moon, which is not a name that feels optimistic.

Why even give the Full Moons names?  That’s simple to answer. From the ancients through many other groups, including the early Native Americans, months didn’t exist because they didn’t use a Julian or Gregorian calendar. People gave each full moon a nickname to keep track of the seasons and lunar months. Lunar calendars came into being and are still used. The Moon’s phases are easier to observe than solar movements, but they are more variable.

Lunar Calendar by Fernando de GorocicaOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Most of the Full Moon names relate to an activity or an event that took place at the time in each location, so names are often both cultural and geographically bound. Your “Snow Moon” may well be quite warm and snow-free. Some groups  counted four seasons a year while others counted five, and some defined a year as 12 moons, while others said there were 13. Colonial Americans adopted some of the Native American names and so they were written down and still survive.

For January, “Wolf Moon” was used in Europe as well as here in America, but other European names included Ice Moon and Old Moon. Still, I was searching for a more optimistic January Moon name after a personally and nationally tough 2017.

There is the Chinese Holiday Moon, the Moon After the Yule and the Celtic Quiet (Quite) Moon which all sound kinder. But the new name I settled on for this year’s post is from New Guinea – the Rainbow Fish Moon. That calendar does not follow our months but this is the name listed for January’s Full Moon.

I could not find why this little fish is associated with this time. Does it spawn now or appear in greater numbers? Anyone from New Guinea reading this post who can comment?

There is a children’s book, The Rainbow Fish, that is new to me but apparently a very popular book. It has eye-catching foil stamping  illustrations that glitter on every page. The story is  about a beautiful fish who learns to make friends by sharing his most prized possessions and about individualism. Good messages, though it seems that has been interpreted differently by some.

The story was made into an animated television series of the same name.

And if you are reading this in the Southern Hemisphere, are you calling this the Hay Moon, Buck Moon, Thunder Moon, or Mead Moon? Post a comment!


Tomorrow, January 12, the Moon will be full for this new month in the new year of 2017. This Wolf Moon is full at 6:34 ET for me.

The Scottish Gaelic word for January, Faoilleach, means “wolf month” and I believe this is the origin for the name, but Native Americans often used that name without any knowledge of it being used in other parts of the world. Many American full moon names follow names that tribes gave to the Full Moons hundreds of years ago when they kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon.

“January” is a word that comes from the Roman god Janus. Janus had two faces and ruled over beginnings and endings and the past and the future. The ancient Romans believed this was a time to put aside the old, outdated parts of your life. It is a time to plans for new and better conditions, and that seems to have continued in our tradition of having new year’s resolutions.

American Indians named this moon for the wolf packs that howled hungrily outside their villages in the heart of winter.  Remember that for these northern and eastern tribes the Full Moon marked the beginning of a period (what we call a month), not a day. The period from this January moon until the next February moon is usually the toughest part of winter weather in those areas.

My own Wolf Moon posts over the life of this blog are always popular posts and I think it is the wolf that draws in readers.


When Americans think of a “wolf,” we are seeing the gray wolf (Canis lupus). This species is also known as the timber wolf or western wolf. It is native to the wilderness and remote areas of Eurasia and North America.

It is still a controversial species. It is threatened and endangered in some areas and hated and hunted in other areas because it preys on livestock. The gray wolf is one of the world’s best known and well researched animals.

Though it was hunted because of its attacks on livestock, in native societies it was revered.

It rarely attacks humans and most reported cases have been attributed to animals suffering from rabies. Wolves try to live away from people, and generally have developed a fear of humans.

Part of our fascination with wolves probably is tied to our love for dogs. The domestic dog is now the most widely abundant large carnivore and is a descendant from one of the now-extinct wolf populations.

The gray wolf is a social animal. Their social unit is a mated pair, accompanied by the pair’s adult offspring. The average wolf pack consists of a family of 5–11 animals (1–2 adults, 3–6 juveniles and 1–3 yearlings) Sometimes two or three such families live together and exceptionally large packs consisting of 42 wolves have been studied.

They are also highly territorial animals. They generally establish territories far larger than they require to survive in order to assure a steady supply of prey. Native Americans respected that wolves guarded their territory.

The gray wolf is generally monogamous, with mated pairs usually remaining together for life. Upon the death of one mated wolf, pairs are quickly re-established. Since males often predominate in any given wolf population, unpaired females are a rarity.

I have heard the howling of wolves and coyotes in the wild and those sounds are very moving. Depending on the setting and your situation, it can trigger fear or admiration. It seems to me to connect with something ancient and primal inside of us.

wolf howling wikimedia

wolf snow wikimedia

If the cold and deep snows of midwinter have come to your area, you may identify with the traditional name for the January Full Moon of Wolf Moon.  Adapted from American Indian names for this Full Moon, it came from the wolf packs that howled hungrily outside villages.

Here in Paradelle, it’s snowing hard and I doubt that the Moon will be visible tonight. The blizzard winds are howling around the house, but that is as close as we’ll get to wolves.

This month’s moon is also known as the Old Moon, Moon After Yule, and Snow Moon.

Though many ancient civilizations connect wolves with the moon, scientists have found no connection between the phases of the moon and wolf howling.

Hecate, Greek goddess of the moon, kept the company of dogs, as did Diana, Roman goddess of the moon and the hunt. In Norse mythology, there is the tale of a pair of wolves that chase the moon and sun to summon night and day. The American Seneca tribes believe that a wolf sung the moon into existence.

Wolves do howl more at night because they’re nocturnal and they howl up to the stars and moon because the sound carries farther then.

But perhaps you live where there isn’t snow, wolves or even winter. According to, in the Southern Hemisphere the names for this January moon are Hay Moon, Buck Moon, Thunder Moon, Mead Moon. I think they just flipped the names we usually use in other seasons. I can’t believe that people in South America call any moon the Buck Moon.

Any readers outside the United States: What do you call the Full Moons in your country?


Before dawn this morning (from my North American longitude) the Earth reached its closest point to the sun for this year. Did you feel it?  No, but this annual event (this time at 6:36 UTC or 01:36 a.m. EST) is called perihelion from the Greek roots peri (near) and helios (sun).

Our planet gets closest to the sun every year in early January. Obviously, that doesn’t make it any warmer in the Northern Hemisphere, and we aren’t any cooler in early July when the aphelion occurs and we are farthest away from the sun. I’ll bet this confused the ancients (and some modern readers) if they knew it was occurring, though the Southern Hemisphere ancients must have thought it made perfect sense.

Earth is about 5 million kilometers (3 million miles) closer to the sun in early January than it will be in early July. That sounds like a big difference, but it’s not really significant enough to cause temperature changes across the planet and it doesn’t explain the seasons.

Mostly, it is the tilt of our planet’s axis that creates winter and summer. In winter, your hemisphere is tilted away from the sun and in summer it is tilted toward the sun. Those days of maximum tilt toward or away from the sun are the December and June solstices.

There’s a page on perihelion and aphelion and all the upcoming dates at if you want more information.

Tomorrow, January 9, 2012, is the Full Moon that starts the new year.

This Cold Moon (called Unolvtani in Cherokee celebrations) marked the start of the season for personal and ritual observance, fasting and personal purification. It was a time for families to prepare for the coming of the next season which will start with the Windy Moon in March. The tools for planting are repaired, and new ones are made. The ancestors are honored with the telling of stories about them to young ones.

This month is the time of a Cold Moon Dance in communities. Another tradition found here in America by natives was also a part of celebrations by ancients in Europe. To mark the ending of one cycle of seasons and welcoming the beginning of the new cycle, community hearth fires are put out and new ones are made. The putting out of Fires and lighting of new ones was the duty of holy men of certain clans.

This time also coincides with the first arrival of the Morning Star in the east. Of course, the Morning Star isn’t a star at all, but the name given to the planet Venus when it appears in the east before sunrise. The Greek referred to “Phosphorus” (meaning “Light-Bringer”) or Heōsphoros [AKA Eosphorus in English] meaning the “Dawn-Bringer” for Venus in its morning appearance.

While names for the Full Moons were used by Native Americans and other ancient civilizations to keep track of the seasons, their names applied to the time period that began with the full moon and extended until the next Full Moon. Remember, they did not use a calendar, so weeks, months and years were not concepts of time for them. No messy leap years, time zones or daylight savings time to negotiate.

Some of the Native American names that I have seen for the January full moon are the Cold Moon, Cooking Moon, Moon of the Terrible, Moon of the Raccoon, Full Snow Moon (also applied by some tribes to the February moon).

Why so many different names? Most variations in naming can be explained geographically. Tribes of the southwest and the northeast did not share the same climate, plants or animals and the names of the moons show that. One name that comes from far northern tribes is the Moon When Trees Pop.

A very common name used for our January moon is the Wolf Moon, a name inspired by the howling of hungry wolves during this time of scarcity that would gather outside villages and encampments.

Other names for this month’s full moon include the Winter Moon, Hunger Moon, Old Moon (an Colonial settlers name borrowed from Native Americans), Moon After Yule, the neo-Pagan Ice Moon.

The word January comes from the Roman god Janus. Janus had two faces and ruled over beginnings and endings and the past and the future. It was considered the time to put aside the old and outdated in your life and make plans for new and better conditions. It is not hard to see that we have maintained the idea in our annual ritual of new year’s resolutions.

The Holiday Moon is a name used in China. The Chinese celebration is actually similar to the Romans in celebrating their New Year, which occurs on the first day of the New Moon when the Sun is in Aquarius. This is considered a time for settling debts, honoring ancestors, and having family reunions. Paper images of dragons are carried through the streets and set off fireworks to chase away evil entities and misfortune.

In Tibet, the year began at the end of January and there was a celebration to expel the Old Year. They would make a human image from dough for the demons to inhabit. The image was worshiped then for seven days and then it was taken outside the village to a crossroad and abandoned. Why worship the demons? These negative beings, who have accumulated during the Old Year, get recognized for their existence. Then, by leaving the image outside the village, they are told that they are not welcome.

I also like the Druid name for this Moon. Our January is Llianth, their fourth month of the year, and the full moon is known as the Poet’s Moon. It is a good time for peace, creativity, and inspiration.

Venus, the Morning Star

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