In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the expression “blue moon” usually has nothing to do with the moon’s color.
Tonight’s full moon is a “blue moon,” meaning it’s the second full moon of December 2009 — one of those things that doesn’t happen very often, as the moon is full every 28 days and the longest months are 31 days. We get a blue moon once every two or three years.
History of the Blue Moon
Historically, the phrase “blue moon” has been used mostly as a general term for a very unusual event, according to the Wikipedia entry. It’s only been used to refer to the second full moon in a month since 1946.
Wikipedia gives two alternative explanations for the origin of the term:
1. A 1528 pamphlet critical of the clergy, which ranted that “Yf they say the mone is belewe / We must believe that it is true.” So this indicates that the phrase was used to refer to “absurdities and impossibilities” in general.
2. The other explanation rests on an alternative meaning for “belewe” in Old English: betrayer. In this case, the moon could be called a betrayer if it led to a mistake in calculating when Easter should occur.
The Blue Moon in Song
The “Blue Moon” has been the subject of popular songs — following are some of the greatest (all these links take you to samples of the cuts mentioned):
“Blue Moon” — Maybe the best-known version is the doo-wop version recorded by the Marcels in 1961. The song was actually written in 1934 by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It’s been recorded by many artists, but my personal favorite is Bob Dylan’s version on his 1989 Self Portrait album.
“Once in a Very Blue Moon” — My favorite “blue moon” song of all is this exquisite number by Nancy Griffith, co-written with Pat Alger.
Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry does say that sometimes the moon actually can look blue because of smoke or dust in the atmosphere.
AB — 31 December 2009