31 July 2015
Just once, in a very blue moon
… on the east coast of Sicily
It is just “once in a Blue Moon.”
I can see the Blue Moon from my balcony in the Villa Linda in Giardini Naxos tonight. Earlier in the evening, after sunset, I strolled along the beach in Recanati, to see the moon rise slowly above the horizon and scatter its sparkling reflections across the waters of the Ionian Sea.
Earlier in the afternoon, after coming down Mount Etna, there were patches of dark clouds across parts of the east coast of Sicily and the thunderstorm lasted for about half an hour, with flashes of lighting across the water.
None of this deterred nor disturbed swimmers or paragliders, and life at the beach went on as normal. Italian weekenders have arrived here in large numbers, and families were still on the beach, enjoying the late July heat, after sunet.
But as I watched, I wondered how many people realised that the rising moon tonight is a blue moon.
This blue moon is the second full moon this month and the first Blue Moon since August 2012. Every month has a full moon – apart from a very exceptional February – and the word month itself is derived from the word moon. But a Blue Moon happens only once every three years or so because the lunar calendar and the solar calendar are never the same.
Of course, the moon tonight does not look blue at all … the phrase has nothing to do with the actual colour of the moon.
When the moon has a bluish hue, it is because of smoke or dust particles in the atmosphere. But Mount Etna, which I climbed earlier today, has not erupted this evening.
When the phrase “once in a blue moon” was first used, it meant something so rare you or I would be lucky – or unlucky – to have seen it in our own lifetime.
So, where does the term comes from?
In calculating the dates of Lent and Easter, the early Church identified a Lenten moon. Sometimes, February, with only 28 or 29 days, has no full moon. So, when the full moon arrived too early, the early moon was called a betrayer or belewe moon.
The earliest recorded use of the term Blue Moon in English is found in a pamphlet attacking Rome and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, written in 1528 by two Greenwich friars, William Roy and Jerome Barlow.
There is not going to be another Blue Moon again for another few years. Where shall I be then?