This Sunday, November 21st, is a blue moon.
It isn’t colored blue. It isn’t the second full moon in a month. Why is it blue?
Back in the July 1943 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine, in a question and answer column written by Lawrence J. Lafleur, there was a reference made to the term “blue moon.”
Lafleur cited the unusual term from a copy of the 1937 edition of the now-defunct Maine Farmers’ Almanac (NOT to be confused with The Farmers’ Almanac of Lewiston, Maine, which is still in business).
On the almanac page for August 1937, the calendrical meaning for the term “blue moon” was given.
That explanation said that the moon “… usually comes full twelve times in a year, three times for each season.”
Occasionally, however, there will come a year when there are 13 full moons during a year, not the usual 12. The almanac explanation continued:
“This was considered a very unfortunate circumstance, especially by the monks who had charge of the calendar of thirteen months for that year, and it upset the regular arrangement of church festivals. For this reason thirteen came to be considered an unlucky number.”
And with that extra full moon, it also meant that one of the four seasons would contain four full moons instead of the usual three.
“There are seven Blue Moons in a cycle of nineteen years,” continued the almanac, ending on the comment that, “In olden times the almanac makers had much difficulty calculating the occurrence of the Blue Moon and this uncertainty gave rise to the expression ‘Once in a Blue Moon.'”
But while LaFleur quoted the almanac’s account, he made one very important omission: He never specified the date for this particular blue moon.
As it turned out, in 1937, it occurred on Aug. 21. That was the third full moon in the summer of 1937, a summer season that would see a total of four full moons.
Names were assigned to each moon in a season: For example, the first moon of summer was called the early summer moon, the second was the midsummer moon, and the last was called the late summer moon.
But when a particular season has four moons, the third was apparently called a blue moon so that the fourth and final one can continue to be called the late moon.
This time, on page 3 of the March 1946 issue, James Hugh Pruett wrote an article, “Once in a Blue Moon,” in which he made a reference to the term “blue moon” and referenced LaFleur’s article from 1943.
Pruett also wrote:
“Seven times in 19 years there were – and still are – 13 full moons in a year. This gives 11 months with one full moon each and one with two. This second in a month, so I interpret it, was called Blue Moon.”
How unfortunate that Pruett did not have a copy of that 1937 almanac at hand, or else he would have almost certainly noticed that his “two full moons in a single month assumption” would have been totally wrong.
For the blue moon date of Aug. 21 was most definitely not the second full moon that month!
Pruett’s 1946 explanation was, of course, the wrong interpretation and it might have been completely forgotten were it not for Deborah Byrd who used it on her popular National Public Radio program, “StarDate” on Jan. 31, 1980.
Over the next decade, this new, incorrect, definition started appearing in diverse places, such as the World Almanac for Kids and the board game Trivial Pursuit.
For me, this blue moon is also significant because it is my daughter’s birthday. If she was alive she would be 31 years old. Damn, I miss her. But I’m okay- not depressed, not confused… it’s only the second year since her death that I can actually look at a calendar and see the dates correctly and say, “Sunday is Erin’s birthday. It’s November 21st on Sunday.”
For 17 years I couldn’t read a calendar properly around this time of year. I couldn’t see the dates and know the days they fell on. I’ve turned a corner of some kind.
Happy birthday, baby girl. I’ll always remember you. I’ll always love you.
The full moon also means that next Friday, after Thanksgiving, will be Mad Liberation by Moonlight, on KBOO FM in Portland (or kboo.fm on the web). Late late Friday night, 1 am to 2 am.
Hey! This is pretty cool. (Not the Dude, silly- the link.)
By the way, zombies aren’t the strangest things going on. Check out this.