Songwriters have crooned about it. Farmers have counted on it. The Chinese Mid-Autumn, or Moon, Festival honors it with special mooncakes. It’s the Harvest Moon, the full moon closest to the Autumnal Equinox, which traditionally shines its all-night beacon to help farmers gather their crops. In addition to being timed well for the job, this Autumn full moon travels particularly close to the horizon in the Northern Hemisphere, so that it appears larger and closer than do other full moons throughout the year. It’s also visible for a longer amount of time than other moons — often all night — so that, especially before electricity, the harvesting needn’t stop at nightfall. And, if that weren’t enough, it also brightens the night sky for many successive days in a row.
For most of a week, those in northern latitudes are able to go outside on clear nights and witness the Harvest Moon. It’s due to be its fullest on the night of September 18 or September 19, depending on your location on the globe. In North America, the crest of the moon’s full phase comes before sunrise September 19. at 11:13 UTC. That’s 4:13 a.m. U.S. Pacific Daylight Time on September 19, 2013. Translate UTC to your time zone.
Asians will witness the full moon after sunset September 19, the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
This year’s Autumnal Equinox falls on September 22, at 20:44 UTC . That’s 1:44 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. “Equinox” means “equal night” in Latin and, twice a year (in March and September), the sun shines directly on the equator, and the length of day and night are nearly equal in all parts of the world.
The Farmers Almanac calls the Fall full moon the Harvest, or Corn, Moon. The Choctaw Native Americans called it the Mulberry Moon, and the Dakota Sioux called it the Moon When the Calves Grow Hair.
I’ve long been quite entranced with the full moon names and their variations. Of course, they reflect both the need to mark passing time and the way that time was experienced by people who were living close to the land. Lunar time-keeping pre-dated our modern calendars (and some calendars, like the Jewish and Chinese calendars, are still lunar-based.) The Farmer’s Almanac has a good list of Native American full moon names and how each came to be.
Other, even older, cultures have had moon naming traditions, too. This site lists full moon names from Chinese, Celtic, Pacific Island, Native American, Pagan, and other cultures.
In addition to harvesting, some people even plant and garden by the phases of the moon.
I hope you enjoy fine Equinox and Harvest Moon, whether you’re harvesting food, memories, or warm family full-moon nights.
Photos: Roadcrusher, Matthias Kobel
You might also enjoy:
The Wheel of the Year: Summer Turns to Fall
Walt Whitman’s Ode to the Harvest
Fall Foliage at its Peak
Celebrate May’s Full Moon
Happy Equinox and Super Moon