January: Wolf Moon
The first Full Moon of the year is named after howling wolves. In some cultures, it was known as Old Moon, Ice Moon, Snow Moon, and the Moon after Yule.
Naming the Full Moon
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.
Howling Wolves in January
While the almanac states that Wolf Moon is a Native American name, other sources claim that it has Anglo-Saxon origins. In Anglo-Saxon culture, the January Full Moon was also called the Moon after Yule, which is the time of the ancient festival celebrating the Winter Solstice around December 22.
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.