Lessons from the moon: Full moon

Tomorrow is the full moon. It will rise near sunset and set near sunrise. We have now gone full cycle in our moon watching.

The moon has always been important and fascinating to people. For many years it was the main calendar tool and the way people tracked the changing season. There are several calendar systems. Our calendar is based entirely on the length of time it takes for the earth to circle the sun. It is measured based on how long it takes for the earth to complete a cycle where the sun is rising at the same latitude and longitude like the time between summer solstice from on year to the next.

The only widely used true lunar calendar in use today is the Islamic calendar. It follows 12 lunar months in each year. Because it does not link the lunar months with the solar year the months do not match the  seasons. It takes about 33 years for the Islamic lunar month to cycle back around to a given time in the solar year.

Most of the lunar calendars are also linked to the solar year. This links the lunar month to a given season and many cultures will have names for that month that describe important events that are happening happening in nature at that time. For example, the Algonquin called the July moon Full Buck Moon because this is when antlers first appear each year on the buck deer. It was also called Full Thunder Moon because July is often a month of Thunderstorms.

The solar year is 365.25 days long. A lunar year, the length of time it takes the moon to complete 12 full cycles (lunations) ,  lasts only 354. 37 days. To calibrate the lunar year with the seasons and the solar year an intercalary month is added every two to three years. This extra month allows the other moons to remain correlated to their seasons. There are several ways to do this but one common one would be simple observation. Although it is possible to calculate (wikipedia, scroll down) when the next 13 moon year is going to occur, it is easy to do by watching the moon and her cycles .

  • Can you tell, by looking at a calendar if this year would be a year with an extra moon month added to it?
  • If not, when is the next one likely to happen.

Cultures named the months according to events that were important to that season.

Because I am of Irish descent, I have picked the Celtic names for the moons to show.

January: Quite Moon July: Moon of Claiming
February: Moon of Ice August: Dispute Moon
March: Moon of Winds September: Singing Moon
April: Growing Moon October: Harvest Moon
May: Bright Moon November: Dark Moon
June: Moon of Horses December: Cold Moon

For more names for the full moon, from many other cultures, you can go to this Names of the Moon page from Keith’s Moon Page. Another excellent page for First Nations People’s names is here. You’ll notice that Snow Owl’s page talks about the Full Fruit or Barley moon. This name was used only when there was a full moon very early in the month of September. It insured that, during a 13 moon solar year, the names of the months and moons remained correlated to the time of the year.

I told you I like stories. When I was a little girl I had a book of Japanese Fairy Stories. It was written in English but we bought it when I was living in Japan. One of my favorite stories was the story of how the rabbit got into the moon. You see, the Japanese say there is a Rabbit in the moon.

Can you find it?

After you have tried to trace it, go here and see if the Japanese outlines (there are two shown)  are the same as yours. If they aren’t, that’s just fine. Remember, this is fun and curiosity not right or wrong.

  • What other shapes can you see in the moon?
  • Just for fun, develop your own lunar calendar and name the months to match important events in your lives.
    • For example, if you are a football fan, the moon in January could be the Superbowl moon
    • or it could be the moon of the long nights (or short nights if you live south of the equator).

In closing, I want to share this cute story that I found when I was doing research about the Rabbit on the Moon.  This story shows a third variation of an outline of the Rabbit in the Moon.

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