As the snowiest month in the United States, February’s full moon is commonly known as the Full Snow Moon in Native American cultures. These ancient tribes named this moon after the way trees cracked in the cold, or how people had to sit shoulder to shoulder around the fire for warmth. Even the Celts called it the Moon of Ice. As expected of the coldest month in the year, the Full Snow Moon is also known by more sinister names, such as the Bone Moon.
The Cherokee tribe called February’s full moon the Bone Moon because by this point, the tribe’s winter food supplies had usually dwindled to the point where people had to gnaw on bones and cook bone marrow soup in order to survive. For the same reason, the Kalapuya tribe called this moon the Out of Food Moon. Appropriately, it’s also known as the Hunger Moon and the Little Famine Moon. Perhaps due to this month’s association with death, the Cherokee tribe would commune with their dead ancestors during the Bone Moon. A didanawiskawi, or a medicine person, would host a medicine dance for the community. Fasting and rituals for the dead were also common practices.
However, not all cultures associate February’s full moon with extreme cold and death. The Hopi tribe calls it the Moon of Purification and Renewal, which is very fitting because the Full Snow Moon is usually the very first full moon of the year according to the lunar calendar. Cultures that follow the lunar calendar, especially East Asian cultures, tend to associate the Full Snow Moon with new beginnings for this very reason. The ancient Chinese, for example, called it the Budding Moon.
As a matter of fact, celebrations of February’s full moon are the climax of Lunar New Year festivities in various East Asian countries. In China, the Full Snow Moon is celebrated during the Lantern Festival, also known as the Yuanxiao Festival, which is the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. During this festival, the Chinese release kongming lanterns into the sky as they admire the full moon and eat tangyuan, glutinous rice balls that are usually filled with sweet paste. The round shape of the balls symbolize family togetherness and bring good luck to the whole family.
Many East Asian cultures in general also light lanterns and bonfires to celebrate February’s full moon. According to an ancient Chinese legend, not long after Buddhism was brought into China, 17 deities were witnessed flying through the sky during the first full moon of the Lunar New Year. Shocked and excited, the populace lit fires and lanterns to see the godly beings better. They continued to do so year after year, but for more practical reasons - to chase away pests and to pray for a good crop in the upcoming spring.
In Korea, where February’s full moon is known as Daeboreum, these fiery structures are called “Houses of the Burning Moon”. During Daeboreum, Koreans hike mountains despite the freezing temperatures in order to catch a glimpse of the first rise of the first full moon of the Lunar New Year. According to legend, the very first person to accomplish this feat will have their dearest wish come true.