The last full moon of 2021 occurs on December 18th. The Mohawk tribe called it Full Cold Moon which seems pretty obvious since it falls during the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere, Other tribes called it Snow Moon, Winter Maker Moon, Drift Clearing Moon, and Hoar Frost Moon. By the way, what is hoar frost? It is a feathery frost that clings to objects. These ice crystals will form if specific conditions are met. They form on clear, cold nights with very light cold air. As seen on trees, branches, and leaves they look like the stiff white whiskers of an old man’s beard.
Did you know that the English word month gets its root from the Proto-Germanic word for the moon? It has to do with the lunar cycle. Our moon goes through phases. Every 29.5 days we see it change from New Moon to First Quarter to Full Moon to Last Quarter and back to New Moon; Then it starts all over again. This lunar cycle is very close to the unit of time that we call a month.
Another name used in December is Long Night Moon. On December 21st we have the winter solstice or the first day of winter. It is our longest night of the year. Remember back to September 23rd and the start of fall? We had an Equinox, which is a day with equal amounts of daylight and darkness, about 12 hours of each. Since then we’ve gradually lost 2 hours of daylight so the balance has shifted. We now have about 10 hours of daylight and 14 hours of darkness. I will be glad when the balance swings back the other way; That will happen soon. After the first day of winter we add a few minutes of daylight each and every day. We’ll continue to add daylight all the way until June 21st, the first day of summer.
Another name given out in December is Oak Moon and I had wondered about that one. This name came from the annual tradition of harvesting mistletoe from oak trees. Nowadays you don’t see mistletoe as much anymore. Ancient druids, members of the high ranking class in Celtic cultures, gave the Oak Moon its name.
I wonder what the sky will be like on Christmas Eve. First of all, after sunset you’ll see the planet Venus shining like a very bright star in the western sky. We can see it all month. This planet gradually sets and drops out of sight by 8 p.m. By New Year’s Day, Venus will be gone from sight entirely at sunset. It will later appear in January in the eastern sky as a bright morning star. Why is Venus so bright? It is the closest planet to Earth. Venus changes position as it orbits the sun so that accounts for when and where we see it.
The moon on Christmas Eve is 76 percent full and in a phase called Waning Gibbous. This is an astronomical term referring to the moon getting smaller. It is used to note when the moon is past full but not yet half. The word gibbous is an older term referring to a hump or protrusion. If you think about it, the moon does look a bit humped or misshapen in this phase. Not until December 27th does the moon reach 50 percent full, or what is called the Last Quarter.
And so we are finishing up another Christmas and another year. I hope everyone has a blessed holiday season and a good time with family and friends. Each month and each moon brings us something new. Like the moon, life goes through phases and I look forward to the next part of my journey!