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January: Wolf Moon

The year's first Full Moon, Wolf Moon, is named after howling wolves, but it's also often called the Moon After Yule in the Anglo-Saxon tradition.

A big yellow Full Moon setting behind snowy Alaska Range mountains near Denali with pine trees in the foreground.

January's Full Moon is known as the Wolf Moon. Winter Moon in the Alaska Range, US.

©iStockphoto.com/R Lolli Morrow

Wolf Moon 2023

Jan 6, 2023 at 6:07 pm

Wolf Moon 2024

Jan 25, 2024 at 12:54 pm

Times for the Wolf Moon vary by time zone. Times and dates are based on the local time in Washington DC. Change location

Howling Wolves in January

January's Full Moon is known as the Wolf Moon, after the wolves that are active during the early parts of the year.

The name is thought to have a Celtic and Old English origin, brought over to North America by European settlers. Other Celtic names of the Full Moon include Stay Home Moon and Quiet Moon, while in some Native American cultures, it is called Severe Moon or Center Moon.

In Anglo-Saxon culture, January's Full Moon was also called the Moon after Yule. Yule is the ancient winter solstice festival usually celebrated around December 21.

Naming the Full Moon

In ancient times, it was common to track the changing seasons by following the lunar month rather than the solar year, which the 12 months in our modern calendar are based on.

For millennia, people across Europe, as well as Native American tribes, named the months after features they associated with the Northern Hemisphere seasons, and many of these names are very similar or identical.

Today, we use many of these ancient month names as Full Moon names. A common explanation is that Colonial Americans adopted many of the Native American names and incorporated them into the modern calendar. However, it seems that it is a combination of Native American, Anglo-Saxon, and Germanic month names which gave birth to the names commonly used for the Full Moon today.

Some years have 13 Full Moons, which makes one of them a Blue Moon, as it doesn't quite fit in with the traditional Full Moon naming system. However, this is not the only definition of a Blue Moon.

Why Do Wolves Howl?

Regardless of where the name Wolf Moon comes from; wolves howl to communicate over long distances both in North America and in Europe. It is a way of saying “here I am” to the rest of the pack or “stay away” to intruders.

During the denning season in spring and early summer, wolves only howl to pack mates. As the late summer moves towards fall, wolves call more and more to neighbors and enemies. While an average howl from a single wolf lasts from 3 to 7 seconds, a chorus by a pack can last from 30 to 120 seconds and longer during the breeding season in February. So wolves are particularly loud and vocal in the first months of the year, which is probably why people associated the month of January with howling wolves.

Do Wolves Howl at the Moon?

The scientific community has no indication that the Moon phase plays any particular part in the calls of the wolf, but wolves are nocturnal animals, so they are in general more active at night. And wolves do howl in the direction of the Moon; they point their faces toward the sky for better acoustics, because projecting their howl upward carries the sound farther.

Topics: Moon, January, Calendar, Solstice, Seasons, Months, Full Moon Names