The Harvest Moon: An International Perspective

The Harvest Moon

The harvest moon looks unusually big and close to the horizon Photo Credit: Wikipedia
The harvest moon looks unusually big and close to the horizon Photo Credit: Wikipedia | Source

This Year's Harvest Moon -- September 29

The Harvest Moon is scheduled this year (2012) to occur on September 29 at 10:19 pm. But that is just the crest of the phenomenon. The moon will appear to be full for several nights during this period, it will loom closer on the horizon and seem larger, and we can look for several moonlit nights when the sky does not grow dark immediately after sunset.

What is the Harvest Moon? What makes it special? And why does it not occur on the same date each year?

The Seasons

The seasons on planet earth are determined by the earth's position relative to the sun in its orbit. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
The seasons on planet earth are determined by the earth's position relative to the sun in its orbit. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

What is the Harvest Moon?

The harvest moon is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox. As such, the Harvest Moon is defined by two different celestial events: the autumnal equinox, which is dependent on the orbit of the earth around the sun, and the full moon, which has to do with the cycles of the moon in its orbit around the earth.

An equinox occurs when the night and the day are very nearly equal because the sun shines directly on the equator. This happens twice during the year: once in the spring and the second time in the fall. The Autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere happens in September.

However, the Harvest Moon does not always appear in September. That is because the Harvest Moon is a type of full moon . A full moon is a lunar event, best described in a lunar calendar.

The moon is seen as full when it is on the opposite side of the earth from the sun. This happens about every twenty-eight days -- or, more accurately, every 29.53 days on average.

Human beings are torn between the sun and the moon. Our days are defined by the revolutions of the earth around its axis. Our months are defined, more or less by the phases of the moon. But our years are defined by the orbit of the earth around the sun. These things do not all align well together. If they did, we would be living in a perfect world.

Since we live in an imperfect world instead, the date of events such as the Harvest Moon very much depends on the type of calendar you are using.

A Full Moon

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

The Gregorian Calendar and the Various Lunar Calendars and The Harvest Moon

The Gregorian Calendar that we all use now is a solar calendar. It was introduced by Pope Gregory the XIII in the year 1582, and even as a solar calendar it is not all that perfect. It is based on the assumption that the time elapsed between vernal equinoxes is exactly 365.25 days, when in fact that number seems to be getting smaller every year. So far, though, the discrepancy is just 11 minutes, so in that respect it works well enough. This calendar has been accepted internationally.

However, in earlier times, lunar calendars were the norm, and two of the best known lunar calendars are the Chinese and the Hebrew calendars.

The chinese traditional calendar is known as the agricultural calendar (農曆/农历) and it incorporates some solar as well as lunar factors. The Chinese celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival, ( 中秋節) , a holiday that is closely related to the Harvest moon. This year, 2012, Mid-Autumn Festival will occur on September the 30th.

The Hebrew Calendar (הלוח העברי) is also a traditional calendar that has a holiday that is related to the harvest moon. The holiday of Sukkoth, in Hebrew, סֻכּוֹת, is a celebration defined in the Old Testament. This year it begins on the eve of September 30.

Mid-Autumn Festival always falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Sukkoth always falls on the 15th day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. But they fall on different days of the Gregorian calendar every year.

One question we might ask ourselves: does it matter what the date of an event like the harvest moon really is? Each of the calendars is right, in its own way, but each of them is also wrong, requiring correction. Each calendar has its own array of corrective measures intended to make the lunar and solar events come into synch.

But when we look up at the sky and see the harvest moon, then we know the right day has come, no matter what day it happens to be on anybody's calendar!

Mid-Autumn Festival and Sukkoth

Are the Chinese and Hebrew holidays that fall on the same day just different versions of the same holiday -- or two different holidays that happen on the same phase of the moon and the sun? The answer you give depends on who you are, how you look at culture and the moon and the sun and the calendar you use.

In my novel, Our Lady of Kaifeng, I explore this issue in great detail. You might learn more about that by following this link:

In the meanwhile, whoever you are, and whatever you may believe, don't forget to go outdoors and look at the moon on the nights of September 29 and 30th this year! It is a sight well worth beholding. Believe me, when you gaze at this moon, you will forget all about the calendar! There are some things that transcend culture, and this is one of them.

Copyright 2012 Aya Katz

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Comments 21 comments

Crystal Tatum profile image

Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

I love to see the Harvest Moon. Thanks for this informative hub.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Crystal!

mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

I love to see the moon when it is this way. Sometimes it looks like it is touching the ground.

I voted this Hub UP, etc. and will share.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Mary615! It's wonderful to be able to appreciate the moon when it looks so big and so close.

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

Can't wait for this! I love it and really had no facts, so thank you!

bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Great hub Aya. I've always been fascinated with the moon. Will definitely take note of 10/29 for the Harvest Moon. Great job. Up, Sharing, etc..

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Jackie. I think we all have heard of the harvest moon, but it does not hurt to review some of the facts.

Thanks, Bdegiulo. I hope you have a wonderful evening on the 29th, but it's this month!

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Sorry everyone! The date of the Harvest Moon this year is September 29! It's in three days.

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 4 years ago

I love anything of the moon ! Its so awesome....... as is this ! Blue moon , wolf moon , all of them !

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, ahorseback! The moon is a thing of beauty.

Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

Aya, this is a great hub -- very interesting and informative. I love it. Thank you for writing this.

rcrumple profile image

rcrumple 4 years ago from Kentucky

Much information provided here! Extremely interesting read. Will be sure to look up at the end of the month. lol Great Job!

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Phyllis and RCrumple!

JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 4 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Thanks to the threat of West Nile, I rarely go outside at night. But I'll definitely do so Saturday night because I love seeing the moon "up close and personal". Thanks for the heads up! ;D

drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

Now, thanks to you, Aya, I shall call myself a Harvest Moon expert. Anxiously awaiting the celestial sight on the 29th. Thanks for this preview.

ThePracticalMommy profile image

ThePracticalMommy 4 years ago from United States

I'm looking forward to the Harvest Moon! I see the moon is near full now (I didn't have to look; my kids act crazy around full moons! lol), but I'll be sure to view it Saturday night.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, JamaGenee. I hate the idea of West Nile fever, too. But if we use some sort of insect repellent, it should be possible to enjoy the beautiful sight of the Harvest Moon, up close and personal, as you say.

Dr. BJ, glad to have helped with the expertise thing. Actually, I'm still learning all about it myself. Hope you see the harvest moon in all its glory!

The Practical Mommy, I know what you mean. We're all going crazy here, too! Good to know we'll be gazing at the same moon Saturday night! It's a small world.

SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 4 years ago from Southern California, USA

The harvest moon is always splendid, and the tie in with Our Lady of Kaifeng is great for this time of year.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, SweetiePie!

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

This is so very interesting and thank you for sharing.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 3 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Eddy. I am glad you enjoyed it!

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