The full moon is more than just another pretty face, or the subject of really bad poetry where it’s rhymed with June. To Native Americans inhabiting what is now the Northern and Eastern United States, each month’s full moon played a unique role in keeping track of the seasons, and was given a special name for the entirety of the month in which it appeared. These names were used by the Algonquin tribes populating the region from New England to Lake Superior. Later, European settlers followed suit, devising some of their own lunar names. Here is a year’s worth of full moon monikers, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, along with their meanings.
January – Full Wolf Moon
This moon was named after the wolf packs that would hungrily howl near Native American villages, amidst the frigid, deep mid winter snows. Occasionally, it was called the Old Moon or the Moon After Yule. Some referred to it as the Full Snow Moon, but the majority of tribes attributed that name to the February full moon.
February – Full Snow Moon
Because this month was known for the heaviest snowfalls, native Northern and Eastern tribes referred to February’s full moon as the Full Snow Moon. Several tribes also named this moon the Full Hunger Moon, since severe weather in their territories made hunting an extremely difficult task.
March – Full Worm Moon
As temperatures rose and the ground started to thaw, earthworms would begin appearing, and with them, the return of the robins – inspiring the name of the Full Worm Moon. The more northerly tribes called this moon the Full Crow Moon, when cawing crows heralded winter’s end. It was also known as the Full Crust Moon, because the snow would develop a crust from thawing during the daytime and freezing when night fell. Another name this celestial body garnered was the Full Sap Moon, denoting the season when maple trees were tapped. Settlers referred to it as the Lenten Moon, and regarded it as the last full moon of wintertime.
April – Full Pink Moon
This moon’s name is derived from the herb moss pink, also known as wild ground phlox, which was one of the earliest and most prevalent flowers to bloom in the springtime. This moon was also dubbed the Full Sprouting Grass Moon and the Egg Moon. Coastal tribes named it the Full Fish Moon, since this was the time of year when shad would swim upstream to reproduce.
May – Full Flower Moon
May’s full moon was christened the Full Flower Moon because flowers blossom plentifully during this season. Other names for the May moon are the Full Corn Planting Moon, since corn is ready to be planted, and the Milk Moon, because May is calving season, and cow’s udders are brimming with milk.
June – Full Strawberry Moon
This is one of the few moon names that was universal among all Algonquin tribes, and that denoted the peak of the strawberry-picking season. It was also known as the Hot Moon, for the beginning of summer heat. Among the colonists, it was referred to as the Rose Moon, for the roses that were June bloomers.
July – Full Buck Moon
Buck deer start growing their velvety antlers at this time of year, so tribes dubbed the celestial body the Full Buck Moon during July. Numerous thunderstorms in the New England region resulted in the name Full Thunder Moon. It was also known as the Full Hay Moon, after the July hay harvest.
August – Full Sturgeon Moon
The naming of this moon is attributed to fishing tribes since sturgeon, a large fish inhabiting the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, were most plentifully caught during this month. Several tribes referred to it as the Full Red Moon because as the moon began rising, it took on a reddish hue, as though seen through a humid haze. This moon was also called the Green Corn Moon or Full Grain Moon because the crops grew tall during this time of year.
September – Full Corn Moon or Full Harvest Moon
The name of this full moon was devised by Native Americans, since it denoted when the harvest of corn – as well as many tribes’ staple foods such as pumpkins, squash, beans and rice – was to take place. At harvest’s peak, farmers could work late into the night, their efforts illuminated by the light of the Full Harvest Moon. This moon is also known as the Full Barley Moon, because it filled the skies during the time for harvesting and threshing ripened barley.
October – Full Hunter’s Moon
This is the month when leaves started falling and game animals were fattened and ready for hunting and eating – and the time for accumulating provisions for the long winter ahead. Since the fields were traditionally reaped in late September or early October, hunters could easily see fox and other game animals that emerged to forage among the fallen grains. Possibly because winter was looming close, the Hunter’s Moon received the special honor of acting as a significant feast day in Western Europe, as well as among numerous Native American tribes.
November – Full Beaver Moon
When the Full Beaver Moon lit up the sky, it signified the time to set beaver traps before swamps froze, to guarantee a sufficient supply of warm winter furs. According to another interpretation, the name Full Beaver Moon arises from the fact that beavers were now briskly preparing for winter. This full moon was also referred to as the Frost Moon.
December – Full Cold Moon or Full Long Nights Moon
In December, winter tightened its frigid grip and temperatures plummeted. The winter nights became lengthy and the moon spent more time above the horizon, making its highest arc in the sky opposite a low sun. Christian settlers referred to this moon as the Moon before Yule.
The moon has been featured in poetry, songs and folklore, and has also played a vital role in helping Native Americans track the seasons – as well as the equally vital role of helping them sustain their lives.