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Harvest Moon: September’s Full Moon

5 min read

Originally written on September 2020, updated 2023

September is the month of the Harvest Moon, sometimes also referred to as the Wine Moon or the Singing Moon. This is the time of year when the last of the crops are being gathered from the fields and stored for the winter. It can occur in either September or October, depending on how the lunar cycle lines up with the Gregorian calendar. There’s a chill in the air, the earth is slowly beginning its winter rest as the sun pulls away from us, and It’s the season when is celebrate Mabon, the autumn equinox (but this is another story).
Traditionally this is a month of hearth and home, in which our ancestors spent some time preparing the environment for the upcoming chilly months, before to spend the long winter days inside.

But why it is called “Harvest Moon”?
For several evenings, the moonrise comes soon after sunset. This results in an abundance of bright moonlight early in the evening, which was a traditional aide to farmers harvesting their summer-grown crops.
And what makes it different from other full moons?
In short, on average, there are just a little over 12 complete Moon cycles every year (there being about 29.53 days in a synodic month), and the Harvest Moon isn’t like the other Moons. Usually, throughout the year, the Moon rises an average of about 50 minutes later each day. But near the autumnal equinox, the difference is only 30 minutes.
Additionally, the Full Harvest Moon rises at sunset and then will rise very near sunset for several nights in a row because the difference is at a yearly minimum, and it may almost seem as if there are full Moons multiple nights in a row.
For science enthusiast, the Moon’s orbital motion (combined with the larger orbit of the Earth around the Sun), carries it farther eastward among the constellations of the zodiac from night to night. At any one moonrise, the Moon occupies a particular place on the celestial sphere, but when the Earth turns toward that point 24 hours later, the Moon has moved off to the east about 12 degrees, and it takes an average of 50 minutes longer for the Earth to rotate toward the Moon and for the Moon thus to rise.
But around the date of the Harvest Moon, the Moon rises about the same time.
The zodiac is the band of constellations through which the Moon travels from night to night, and its section in which the full Moon travels around the start of autumn is the section that forms the most shallow angle with the eastern horizon.
Because the Moon’s orbit on successive nights is more nearly parallel to the horizon at that time, its relationship to the eastern horizon does not change appreciably, and the Earth does not have to turn as far to bring up the Moon.
At the start of spring, the opposite happens.

Curious fact, it is not just Western civilization that has given special importance to the Harvest Moon.
In China, it holds a special significance: this is the season of the Festival of the August Moon (“August” is through a calendar discrepancy), or Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節), which is held every year on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month.
In Chinese mythology Chang’e, the Chinese goddess of the Moon, was married to a tyrannical king, who starved his people starved and treated them brutally. The king was very afraid of death, so a healer gave him a potion that would allow him to live forever. Chang’e knew that for her husband to live forever would be a bad and terrible thing, so one night while he slept, she stole the potion. The king figured out what she had done and ordered her to return it, but she immediately drank the elixir and flew up into the sky as the moon, where she remains still today.
In any case, the Chinese Moon Festival is considered a family event, and entire families will sit up to watch the moon rise together on this night, and eat Moon Cakes in celebration.

Mooncakes are Vietnamese and Chinese bakery product traditionally, regarded as an indispensable delicacy and offered between friends or on family gatherings while celebrating the festival. They consist of a thick, tender pastry skin enveloping a sweet, dense filling, and may contain one or more whole salted egg yolks in their center as the symbol of the full moon.
There is a folk tale about the overthrow of Mongol rule facilitated by messages smuggled in moon cakes. As story goes, mooncakes were used by the Ming revolutionaries in their effort to overthrow the Mongolian rulers of China at the end of the Yuan dynasty. Apparently, the idea have been conceived by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang and his advisor Liu Bowen, who circulated a rumor that a deadly plague was spreading and that the only way to prevent it was to eat special mooncakes, which would instantly revive and give special powers to the user. This prompted the quick distribution of mooncakes. However, the mooncakes contained a secret message: on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, kill the rulers.
Another method of hiding a message was to print it on the surfaces of mooncakes (which came in packages of four), as a simple puzzle. To read the message, each of the four mooncakes was cut into four parts. The resulting 16 pieces were pieced together to reveal the message, and then eaten to destroy the message.
In any case, mooncakes remained popular even in recent years and, for many, they form a central part of the Mid-Autumn festival experience such that it is now commonly known as “Mooncake Festival”.

Other Moon names for this month highlight how September is the transitional period between summer and fall:

Autumn Moon (Cree)
Falling Leaves Moon (Ojibwe)
Leaves Turning Moon (Anishinaabe)
Moon of Brown Leaves (Lakota)
Yellow Leaf Moon (Assiniboine)

The behavior of animals is also a common theme, with names like Child Moon (Tlingit) referring to the time when young animals are weaned, and Mating Moon and Rutting Moon (both Cree) describing the time of year when certain animals, like moose, elk, and deer, are looking to mate.

Finally, the harvest moon is a season about reaping what you have sown. Remember those seeds you planted in the spring? And not just the physical seeds, but also the spiritual and emotional ones? Apparently, this is the season where they are bearing fruit….

👉🏼 In 2023, September’s full moon, the Harvest Moon, reaches peak illumination on Friday, September 29, at 5:58 A.M. EDT

Images from Web – Google Research

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