This year, the full moon marking the passage from summer to autumn, called the “harvest moon,” is set to rise and light up the nocturnal sky on Monday, September 20, at 7:55 PM Eastern Time. It is the most famous of all the year’s full moons and will illuminate the sky for three consecutive nights.
Depending on the year, the harvest moon can occur anywhere from two weeks before the autumn equinox to two weeks after. Usually, the moon rises 50 minutes after sunset each evening. However, when a full moon appears close to the autumn equinox, the moon rises only 20 to 30 minutes after sunset, which makes it appear larger and have a beautiful, strong golden hue.
The harvest moon received its name at the beginning of the 18th century, when farmers depended upon the light of the moon to harvest crops late at night.
“In the days before electric lights, farmers across the Northern Hemisphere depended on bright moonlight to extend the workday beyond sunset,” NASA explained in a recent statement. “It was the only way they could gather their ripening crops in time for market. The full Moon closest to the autumnal equinox became ‘the Harvest Moon,’ and it was always a welcome sight.”
This name became entrenched in popular culture at the beginning of the 20th century, when the vaudeville couple Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth released the song “Shine On, Harvest Moon.” This song was featured in many Hollywood films, including blockbusters such as The Great Ziegfield (1936), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) or The Eddy Duchin Story (1956).
Moreover, the famous comedians Laurel and Hardy performed a song-and-dance routine to this song in their 1939 movie The Flying Deuces. Well into the 21st century, the song continues to be recorded and performed, and remains well-known to people all over the world.
However, native population in North America had different associations and names for the Harvest moon. According to the Ontario Native Literacy Coalition, the Cree peoples called it the Rutting Moon, associating it with the beginning of the elks’ mating season, the Ojibwe the Falling Leaves Moon, signifying the arrival of autumn, and the Cherokee the Nut Moon, marking the ripening of nuts. Regardless of its name, this moon remains one of the most beautiful, impressive, and symbolically-loaded full moons of the year.