A Full Moon In Your Christmas Stocking

Look for a little something extra in your stocking at Christmas - a rare full moon. The last time this happened was in 1977. Credit: stock photo with moon by Bob King
Look for a little something extra in your stocking this season when the Full Cold Moon makes a rare appearance at Christmas. Credit: stock photo, moon by Bob King

There’s something bright and shiny under the Christmas tree this year — hey, it’s a full moon!  Does anybody even remember the last time we had a full moon on Christmas? It was back in 1977 when Star Wars first opened. What a fun coincidence that the new movie would appear the next time this rare event would occur. Be sure you don’t miss it as the next full Christmas moon won’t come along until 2034. Will we be queuing up for “Star Wars: The Force Takes a Much-needed Vacation” on that distant date?

The Full Cold Moon will shine in Gemini above Orion Christmas night. Source: Stellarium
The Full Cold Moon will shine in Gemini above Orion Christmas night. Source: Stellarium

December’s full moon, the last of the year, is called the Full Cold Moon because it occurs during the beginning of winter. The moment of full moon happens at 5:11 a.m. CST (6:11 ET, 4:11 MT and 3:11 PT) on the 25th, so the shiny orb will appear full to the eye on both Christmas Eve and Christmas nights. How you enjoy your gift is up to you, but whatever you do, don’t delay the opening. If the sky is clear, take a walk after that big holiday meal and lighten up in the moonlight.

How the moon will look on Christmas in a small telescope. Credit: NASA/LRO
How the moon will look on Christmas in a small telescope. Credit: NASA/LRO

That night, the moon will shine from high up in the constellation Gemini the Twins and blanket the landscape with that special “dark” light, a patchwork of brilliant surfaces interrupted by black, featureless shadows. Gemini is just above Orion, a constellation with enough bright stars to stand out in even the brightest moonlight. Shoot an arrow through Orion’s Belt toward the horizon and you’ll soon arrive at the brightest star in the sky, Sirius. Since it’s still low on early winter evenings, it typically twinkles like mad, sometimes flashing every color of the spectrum. A line shot out the other way from the Belt will send your gaze to the orange giant star, Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull.

Merry Moonlit Christmas and happy holidays! Thanks for your kind attention, comments and inspiration throughout the year.

*Note: One of our readers brought to my attention that observers in Australia and Asia did see a Christmas full moon in 1996.

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