"Oh shine on, shine on, harvest moon
Up in the sky;
I ain't had no lovin'
Since April, January, June or July."
The harvest moon refers to the full moon which falls the closest to the autumnal equinox, September 22. This year it fell on September 18. The full moon appears every 29.5 days; consequently, every once in awhile, there are two full moons in a month, the second one called a "blue moon". Hence the term, "Once in a blue moon".
While the second full moon in a month is "blue", the harvest moon is "orange". There are a couple of reasons for the colour: firstly, a full moon lies low to the ground when it first rises. A scattering of light by the atmosphere makes it appear orange rather than white. Secondly, in the process of harvesting crops in the Fall, farmers stir up lots of dust which lingers in the sky. Pollution can also cause this effect on the moon, as is often the case in Los Angeles. The harvest moon appears to be gigantic in size. In autumn, it is closer to us in orbit.
L.A. Harvest Moon courtesy Terence Lee.
The term harvest moon was popularized by the song "Shine on Harvest Moon" written by Edward Madden and Gus Edwards and performed by a vaudeville couple named Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth in the early 1900's. A 1938 film shared the same name. Neil Young wrote a song called "Harvest Moon" in 1992.
The harvest moon has been painted by artists for years: like "Harvest Moon Over Vegas Valley"
or "Painting with a Twist".
Photographers have also captured its glory.
Keep an eye out for the next harvest moon. While they usually occur in September or October, I have seen a harvest-like moon as late as December.
Note: For picture book lovers, read Hello, Harvest Moon by Ralph Fletcher.