December Is the Time to See the Cold Cold Moon

By: Valerie Stimac  | 
moon, cold moon
December's moon is known as the cold moon for obvious reasons. Mia Stendal/Getty Images

Astronomically speaking, December is a great month. A number of meteor showers pelt the earth's atmosphere and light up the night, including the popular and prolific Geminids mid-month. There are also opportunities to see various planets in the night sky, and other astronomical events too. Throughout all that, the moon will continue its cyclical series of phases, with a full moon overnight on December 7.

This full moon is sometimes called the cold moon. Just as October's moon is called the hunter moon and July's is moon is called the buck moon, December's moon has a variety of names but is most often referred to as the cold moon.

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The origins of the name "cold moon" can be traced to the Mohawk people, a Native American group that traditionally inhabited southeastern Canada and northern New York State.

When to See the Cold Moon

In 2022, the full cold moon will occur at 04:09 GMT on Dec. 8 (11:09 p.m. EDT or 8:09 p.m. PDT on Dec. 7 for those in North America). As you might expect, this makes the cold moon one of the most appropriately named for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere: December is typically one of the coldest months of the year, and the winter solstice on the 21st marks the official start of the winter season.

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Other Moon Names for the Cold Moon

While calling December's full moon the cold moon is perhaps the most logical nickname for it, there are other names that can refer to this moon phase. These include the drift clearing moon, frost exploding trees moon, and hoar frost moon – all of which come from the Cree people, the moon of the popping trees (Oglala), the snow moon (Haida, Cherokee), and the long night moon (Mohican). (January's moon, while still in a cold time of year is known as the wolf moon.)

This last nickname also makes a lot of sense, as the December full moon occurs during the time of year when the days are short and the nights are long in the Northern Hemisphere, surrounding the winter solstice.

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In Europe, pagan groups have also called the December full moon the "moon before yule," referring to the Yule festival at the winter solstice.

You might wonder how often the long night moon falls on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. This has happened just 10 times since 1800, and most recently occurred in 2018.

If you missed that long night moon, the next completely accurate one will occur on Dec. 21, 2094.

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