Some call it the Wolf Moon, which the Farmer’s Almanac attributes to the Algonquins and other American Indians, under the notion that hungry wolves would howl on the outskirts of Native villages in the dead of winter. But such a moniker does not appear anywhere among moon names compiled by Cherokee citizen and lore gatherer Phil Konstantin and posted on the Western Washington University Planetarium website.
Of the 29 tribes listed, not one actually calls January the wolf moon, although the Sioux name is wolves run together moon. The Algonquin, according to the research of Konstantin, who works for NASA and has written extensively about American Indian history and culture, call the January moon squochee kesos, or sun has not strength to thaw—a fitting sentiment in the Northeast, in this week of Arctic-style deep freeze, but nothing to do with wolves.
The moon names tend to mirror latitude somewhat. For instance, to the Haida in Alaska it’s táan kungáay, or bear-hunting moon. The Hopi in southwest Arizona call it paamuya, moon of life at its height. In the Pacific Northwest it’s atalka, meaning stay inside. Moving farther south, the Choctaw word for the January full moon is rv'fo cusee, which means winter’s little brother (as opposed to December’s moon, rvfo-rakko—big winter).
Whatever its name, this second moon after the winter solstice (the first was December 28) turns full on Saturday night at exactly 11:38 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, and it will soar high in Turtle Island's skies, much like the summer sun. This is because, according to EarthSky.org, the moon is directly opposite the sun, which is busy elongating the slow summer days in the Southern Hemisphere.
“The full moon lies opposite the sun, mirroring the sun’s place in front of the backdrop stars for six months hence,” EarthSky.org says. “And that’s why tonight’s moon—like the July sun—will follow a high path across the sky as seen from the northern part of the globe, and a low path as seen from the southern. This January full moon rises north of due east around sunset, climbs highest in the sky around midnight and sets north of due west around sunrise. Watch the full moon shine from sundown to sunup tonight.”