During the winter months, the full moon seems chilly, bone-white and distant, although she can sometimes look as if she is surrounded by a halo of color, glittering in the frosty night sky. The inhabitants of the British Isles and the Algonquian tribes of what is now the northeastern United States gave different names to the full moons, associated with each season. European American settlers continued that tradition. (Yes, this is true, although some claim that the Farmer’s Almanac made it up. There are native folx whose last names coincide with the moons, such as author William Least Heat Moon. There are European celebrations based on the Harvest and Hunt moons.) These names sometimes varied in different regions. Winter moon names included cold moon, snow moon, hunger moon, least heat moon, and wolf moon, all of which show a concern with keeping warm and eating regularly.
This year, the full moon in February will be on Saturday the 27th. January’s late full moon was called the wolf moon, since this was the time that wolves often howled outside Native American villages or in forests near old European towns. It was also called the old moon, cold moon, the moon after Yule and sometimes the snow moon. The Romans associated it with Lupercalia, the festival of wolves, especially the mother canine who suckled Romulus and Remus. February’s full moon is called the hunger moon, as weather conditions could impede hunting and definitely cancelled gathering. Often, stored food would rot and country dwellers would pray that their stores would last. Some Native people called this the least heat moon. Others called it the snow moon because of heavy snowfall.
During the full moon ceremony, it’s suggested that folk magick practitioners take down the last of the Yule greenery and discard or burn it, while mentally casting aside worries, cares or fears. (This might have been done on Imbolc, Plow Monday, or previously, depending on your tradition.) Toast the Ancestors with mead or white wine. Dance in the snow. Set out bread, seeds and peanut-butter for the birds. If you live in a place where making noise won’t get you into trouble, howl like wolves at the full moon.
Suggestions for this liminal time include writing negative thoughts onto paper and burying them in the snow, while mindfully working to remove those conditions from your life; ice skating beneath the full moon, and making a small snow sculpture and adorning it with outgrown mittens and unraveling winter hats. Take stock of things in your home, as our ancestors used to do, and decide what is really helpful and sustaining, and what is useless clutter or no longer necessary. Recycle or give away items that you’ve determined no longer fit your lifestyle.
While Winter Solstice marks the time that Earth’s northern hemisphere tilts closer to the sun, and the days become longer, the ancient Celts still called the time between Samhaine / Nos Galan and Imbolc / Calan Fair “The Long Nights”. Yule was actually the longest night of the year, but the winter months seem as though there are few hours of daylight, and the nights often feel interminable. This is a remarkable time for evaluation and self-discovery. During the Long Nights, old projects were completed and current ventures continued, but it was considered unlucky to begin new projects. It was also considered ill-advised to get married during this time. A period of contemplation was suggested.
The Long Nights are a good occasion to consider what difficult events in life we have had to endure, the hardships we have had to face, the painful situations that we have overcome. If you find it helpful, list these events in your book of shadows. During this season, people of the British Isles visited with friends and family, huddled indoors around a fire, telling stories, reciting poems, playing music and games, and creating various crafts. In keeping with this tradition, invite friends over for dinner, turn off the TV, internet and other media, and take turns singing songs or play a game of cards. (Upper Michigan residents especially enjoy rousing hand of Euchre). Light a fire or candles. Enjoy a cup of hot chocolate with peppermint or marshmallows.
This is also a time to show gratitude to the Gods. Donate items to a charity tag sale. Set out offerings of cheese, bread and beer. Help out at a public school, nursing home or soup kitchen. The Long Nights won’t seem so long, and before we know it, spring will be here.
Moon Dates courtesy of NASA
Date Name U.S. Eastern Time UTC
Jan 28 Wolf Moon 2:16 p.m. 19:16
Feb 27 Snow Moon 3:17 a.m. 8:17
Mar 28 Worm Moon 2:48 p.m. 18:48
Apr 26 Pink Moon 11:31 p.m. 3:31 (Apr. 27)
May 26 Flower Moon 7:14 a.m. 11:14
Jun 24 Strawberry Moon 2:40 p.m. 18:40
Jul 23 Buck Moon 10:37 a.m. 2:37 (Jul 24)
Aug 22 Sturgeon Moon 8:02 a.m. 12:02
Sep 20 Corn Moon 7:55 a.m .23:55
Oct 20 Harvest Moon 10:57 a.m. 14:57
Nov 19 Beaver Moon 3:58 a.m. 8:58
Dec 18 Cold Moon 11:36 p.m. 4:36 (Dec 19)