Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Harvest Moon

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 23, 2010

The harvest moon is a lunar phenomenon that takes place during autumn, with the full moon closest to the Fall equinox, and roughly around traditional harvest time. The moon is much closer to the earth at that point, and takes on a very different yellow hue.  This is primarily due to the dust in the earth’s stratosphere. 

In the Wall Street Journal of November 23, 1955 the newspaper published an article with this intriguing lead:

A week from now the harvest moon of song and story will be big and golden as a Thanksgiving pumpkin in the sky. And a man on Long Island ha started to slice it up. For $1, Mr. Robert Coles. with the Hayden Planetarium, will sell you a deed to n one-acre plot in Copernicus Crater.

What many don’t know is that the Harvest Moon is part of American history.  It was a steam operated gunboat that was part of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.  It left Boston on February 18, 1864 and arrived just off Charleston, South Carolina, February 25 1864, and the day after it arrived in Charleston, Rear Admiral John Adolphus Dahlgren made the steamer his flagship. A little over a year later, on March 1, 1865 the Harvest Moon struck a torpedo in Winyah Bay, South Carolina,  where the bulkhead shattered and then sank.

In 1747, Scottish Astronomer James Ferguson published his first work entitled “A dissertation on the Phenomena of the Harvest Moon” for the Royal Society of London; he later became a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in November 1763.

On October 27, 1415, Hottric Abendon gave a sermon at the Council of Constance — the 15th ecumenical council recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, held from November 16, 1414 to April 22, 1418 — that cried out for the reformation of the Church of England.  In the text of the sermon, the Harvest Moon was referenced by stating:

When the harvest moon comes and the barns are full, then those beneficed men will be at home.

The term was part of everyday language in 1415 which means it was in use at least the generation prior to this sermon being given by Dr. Abendon.

The Asian Mid-Autumn or Harvest Moon Festival, also known as the Moon Cake Festival, fell on September 21 this year.  The bearing of lanterns and the origin of mooncakes that are central to this festival date back to a 14th century revolt by the Chinese against the Mongols. 

In 1376, the Chinese overthrew the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty (1280-1376) in an uprising brilliantly devised and carried out by lantern-bearing messengers who delivered mooncakes with hidden messages inside.

The Moon Cake Festival itself dates back to the Tang dynasty in 618 AD so one could say that the Harvest Moon, known by many names, has been around since at least 618 AD.

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