If you've been paying attention the last couple of days, you'll have heard some fuss being made about this New Year's Eve being a 'blue moon.' This phrase has changed its meaning over the centuries, but these days it is defined as the second full moon in a single month, or as the third full moon in a season that has four full moons. Tonight's moon is the second full moon of December; the first occurred Dec. 2.
Though the expression "once in a blue moon" is used to describe extremely rare events, blue moons aren't all that unusual, occurring every 21/2 years or so. But a New Year's Eve blue moon is somewhat more remarkable -- we haven't had one since 1990. Another titbit of information - Blue moons of this sort aren't actually blue in color (which I was a bit disappointed to learn).
Wikipedia informs us that: The earliest recorded English usage of the term "blue moon" was in a 1528 pamphlet violently attacking the English clergy, entitled "Rede Me and Be Not Wrothe" (Read me and be not angry): "Yf they say the mone is belewe / We must believe that it is true" [If they say the moon is blue, we must believe that it is true]. (From this we also learn that the ancestors of my homeland had terrible spelling!)
Some interpret this "blue moon" as relating to absurdities and impossibilities, and a similar moon-related adage was first recorded in the following year: "They would make men beleue ... that þe Moone is made of grene chese" [They would make men believe ... that the moon is made of green cheese].
One thing that this little splurge of media attention has done is to bring many more people's attention to what the moon is doing on any particular night - how many thousands will look up and notice (hopefully, if the sky is clear) a beautiful part of our night sky this evening? They are getting just a taste of something that, if we are tuned in, is a gift of the rhythm of Jewish time each and every month - we run on a lunar calendar. Each announcement of the new month brings us a dark sky with the merest sliver of light, waxing to its fullness in the middle of the Jewish month (note that our major holiday of Pesach begins on a full moon - 15 Nisan), and then waning again. We bless the month in our liturgy, and some Jewish communities practice the ritual of Kidush levana - Sanctification of the Moon - about a week later when the moon is fully visible. At B'nai Israel, our monthly Rosh Hodesh group - a women's spiritual study group - honors the tradition of the new moon being a 'holiday' for women, and a time to come together to connect and engage.
Tonight is the 14 Tevet, in a month with 29 days. Look up at the moon tonight, and the next night, and the next... feel the rhythm of turning, ebbing, flowing, spiraling... onward and into 2010.
Blessings for health, happiness and wholeness to all.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz