The Harvest Moon: An International Perspective
The Harvest Moon
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?
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
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!
Our Lady of Kaifeng
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