What's a Blue Moon?

The next Blue Moon is scheduled for May 31, 2007


Did you know the expression "Blue Moon" dates back to the time of Shakespeare? I wasn’t aware it had been around that long, but after doing some research, I learned one theory for that expression is because particles from things such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions sometimes interfere with light, causing a bluish tint to the moon’ s appearance from earth. To say that something would happen when the moon turned blue, such as "once in a blue moon", was like saying it more than likely wouldn’t take place.

There are several songs that have been written about a blue moon. In 1989, the General Assembly passed a bill designating the song "Blue Moon of Kentucky" as Kentucky’ s official state bluegrass song. It was written in 1947 by William Smith "Bill" Monroe, a native of Rosine, Kentucky. That song has had many adaptations since its original performance by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. A young Elvis Presley chose to sing his version of "Blue Moon of Kentucky" when he auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry in 1954. This was the song he recorded for his first Sun Records single. It was told that Presley later apologized to Bill Monroe for changing the arrangement of his song. Other entertainers that have included in as repertoire on their albums include Patsy Cline, Patty Loveless, and Ricky Skaggs.

The song entitled "Blue Moon" has been recorded by many performers. Just some of those are: Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Vaughn Monroe, Dean Martin, Frankie Laine, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Dizzy Gillespie. Mel Torme’s version was the only one that actually reached the Billboard magazine charts. The version that really stirred things up came from The Marcels, a doo-wop group. Who could forget those lyrics ...

"Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang
Ba ba ding a dong ding Blue moon moon blue moon dip di dip di dip
Moo Moo Moo Blue moon dip di dip di dip Moo Moo Moo Blue moon dip di dip di dip
Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang
Ba ba ding a dong ding Blue Moon, you saw me standing alone, Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own, Blue moon, you knew just what I was there for
You heard me saying a prayer for Someone I really could care for."

But just exactly what is a "Blue Moon?" Here’s what I learned: During the month of May, 2007, a full moon will appear twice. When this rare occurrence happens, about once every two to three years, the second is called a "Blue Moon." The Farmers’ Almanac says that for the longest time, nobody knew exactly why the second full moon of a calendar month was designated as a Blue Moon. One explanation connects it with the word "belewe" from Old English meaning " to betray." Perhaps, then, the moon was "belewe" because it betrayed the usual perception of one full moon per month.

To make matters even more confusing, here is a list from the Farmers’ Almanac that lists the full moons in 2007. Check out these names:

January 3 - Full Wolf Moon
February 2 - Full Snow Moon
March 3 - Full Worm Moon
April 2 - Full Pink Moon
May 2 - Full Flower Moon
May 31 - Full Blue Moon
June 30 - Full Strawberry Moon
July 29 - Full Buck Moon
August 28 - Full Sturgeon Moon
September 26 - Full Harvest Moon
October 26 - Full Hunter’s Moon
November 24 - Full Beaver MoonDecember 23 - Full Cold Moon

The Farmers’ Almanac goes on to say that full moon names date back to Native Americans. The tribes kept tract of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon. The following is an explanation of why the various names were given:

1. Full Wolf Moon - January - Amid the cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. Thus, the name for January's full Moon. Sometimes it was also referred to as the Old Moon, or the Moon After Yule. Some called it the Full Snow Moon, but most tribes applied that name to the next Moon.

2. Full Snow Moon - February - Since the heaviest snow usually falls during this month, native tribes of the north and east most often called February's full Moon the Full Snow Moon. Some tribes also referred to this Moon as the Full Hunger Moon, since harsh weather conditions in their areas made hunting very difficult.

3. Full Worm - March - Moon As the temperature begins to warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear, heralding the return of the robins. The more northern tribes knew this Moon as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter; or the Full Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night. The Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation. To the settlers, it was also known as the Lenten Moon, and was considered to be the last full Moon of winter.

4. Full Pink Moon - April - This name came from the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. Other names for this month's celestial body include the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among coastal tribes the Full Fish Moon, because this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn.

5. Full Flower Moon - May - In most areas, flowers are abundant everywhere during this time. Thus, the name of this Moon. Other names include the Full Corn Planting Moon, or the Milk Moon.

6. Full Strawberry Moon - June - This name was universal to every Algonquin tribe. However, in Europe they called it the Rose Moon. Also because the relatively short season for harvesting strawberries comes each year during the month of June . . . so the full Moon that occurs during that month was christened for the strawberry!

7. The Full Buck Moon - July - July is normally the month when the new antlers of buck deer push out of their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. It was also often called the Full Thunder Moon, for the reason that thunderstorms are most frequent during this time. Another name for this month's Moon was the Full Hay Moon.

8. Full Sturgeon Moon - August - The fishing tribes are given credit for the naming of this Moon, since sturgeon, a large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water, were most readily caught during this month. A few tribes knew it as the Full Red Moon because, as the Moon rises, it appears reddish through any sultry haze. It was also called the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.

9. Full Harvest Moon - September - This is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years it occurs in October. At the peak of harvest, farmers can work late into the night by the light of this Moon. Usually the full Moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for the few nights around the Harvest Moon, the Moon seems to rise at nearly the same time each night: just 25 to 30 minutes later across the U.S., and only 10 to 20 minutes later for much of Canada and Europe. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, and wild rice the chief Indian staples are now ready for gathering.

10. Full Hunter's Moon - October - With the leaves falling and the deer fattened, it is time to hunt. Since the fields have been reaped, hunters can easily see fox and the animals which have come out to glean.

11. Full Beaver Moon - November - This was the time to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Full Beaver Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now actively preparing for winter. It is sometimes also referred to as the Frosty Moon.

12. The Full Cold Moon; or the Full Long Nights Moon - December - During this month the winter cold fastens its grip, and nights are at their longest and darkest. It is also sometimes called the Moon before Yule. The term Long Night Moon is a doubly appropriate name because the midwinter night is indeed long, and because the Moon is above the horizon for a long time. The midwinter full Moon has a high trajectory across the sky because it is opposite a low Sun.

I’ve always heard odd things happen when the moon is full. Do you suppose occurrences might be even stranger when we have a Blue Moon? May 31 this year will be an excellent time to find out.