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January 20, 2018

Back in the days before Transunion, Equifax, and Experian were sources of reliable information regarding the creditworthiness of an individual, small business owners depended on the experience of other entrepreneurs for such information. My father and my grandfather frequently received phone calls from other business folks requesting references on potential customers. Generally, the conversation was brief. As a teenage fly-on-the-wall I heard only one side of the exchange. I could sense what the call was about the moment the receiver was off the hook. The response was brief and to the point.

“Yes, he pays on time, every time.”

“He pays, but he’s a little slow.”

“He’s kinda’ hit-or-miss with us.”

One day I heard my dad answer such a call.

“He no longer has an account with us. He’d pay once in a blue moon.”

I wasn’t sure what once in a blue moon meant, but I could tell that the phrase meant rarely. An older definition of blue moon is that it’s the third of four full moons in a single season – summer, fall, winter, spring. More recently, the name blue moon has been used for the second of two full moons in a single calendar month.

The idea of a blue moon as the second full moon in a month stemmed from the March 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, which contained an article called “Once in a Blue Moon” by James Hugh Pruett. Pruett was referring to the 1937 Maine Farmer’s Almanac, but he inadvertently simplified the definition. He wrote:

Seven times in 19 years there were — and still are — 13 full moons in a year. This gives 11 months with one full moon each and one with two. This second in a month, so I interpret it, was called Blue Moon.

When thirteen full moons occur in one calendar year there will be two full moons in one calendar month.

Deborah Byrd of Earth and Sky magazine happened upon a copy of the old 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope in the stacks of the Peridier Library at the University of Texas Astronomy Department in the late 1970s. On her radio broadcasts she began using the term blue moon to describe the second full moon in a calendar month.

Later, this definition of blue moon was also popularized by a book for children by Margot McLoon-Basta and Alice Sigel, Kids’ World Almanac of Records and Facts, published in New York by World Almanac Publications, in 1985. The board game Trivial Pursuit also adopted this definition.

Can there be two blue moons in a single calendar year? Yes. It last happened in 1999. There were two full moons in January and two full moons in March and no full moon in February. So both January and March had blue moons. The next year of double monthly blue moons will be in January and March of this year, 2018. After that, the double blue moons will appear in January and March, 2037.

Just how often does a blue moon occur? The time between one full moon and the next is twenty-eight days, a lunar month. So the only time one month can have two full moons is when the first full moon happens in the first few days of the month. This happens only about every two or three years. The last blue moon happened on July 31, 2015. Because the moon was full on January 2, 2018, the next blue moon will be this coming Wednesday, January 31, 2018.

Such infrequent natural occurrences have sparked the imagination of many cultures.

In the Southern Appalachian Mountains it is considered a good idea to pick flowers and berries during a blue moon. This is believed to bring more abundance, love, and beauty into your life.

There is an old English tradition that holds that if a housewife sees a blue moon and changes her bed coverings she will become more fertile.

An ominous belief among the Welsh maintains that if a member of the family dies during a blue moon, three more deaths will follow.

Within Eastern European Gypsy culture there is a belief that a person who sleeps with the blue moon shining on his or her face may go insane.

Usually the term blue moon has nothing to do with color. However, it is possible, albeit extremely rare, to see an actual blue-colored moon.  Over very dry desert landscapes, unusual atmospheric conditions where particles of dust or smoke create a filter for moonlight can give the appearance of a blue-tinted moon. Blue-colored moons aren’t predictable. Alas, most blue moons are not blue.

Still, artists from songwriters, to painters, to authors give us the impression that the blue moon really is blue in color.  The Blue Moon Literary & Art Review headquartered in Davis, California, publishes poetry and fiction of all genres. The magazine features both artists and writers.

Blue Moon Rising is a novel by Simon R. Green that follows the exploits of Prince Rupert of the Forest Kingdom, Princess Julia of Hillsdown, his unicorn, and her dragon. The blue moon is the source of much that is magical in the novel.

In the field of music, one of the best known songs is, appropriately enough, the official bluegrass song of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was written by Bill Monroe in 1946, and was first recorded by Monroe playing mandolin and backed by his band the Blue Grass Boys. Kentucky was his home state. In this song he is heartbroken over a girl who left him, but he wishes her well.

Blue Moon of Kentucky keep on shining

Shine on the one that’s gone and proved untrue

Blue Moon of Kentucky keep on shining

Shine on the one that’s gone and left me blue


It was on a moonlight night

The stars were shining bright

And they whispered from on high

Your love has said good-bye


Blue Moon of Kentucky keep on shining

Shine on the one that’s gone and said good-bye


The Billie Holiday jazz rendition of “Blue Moon” by Richard Rogers is about a lonely person who finds the one they love beneath a blue moon.

Blue Moon you saw me standing alone

Without a dream in my heart

Without a love of my own

Blue Moon, you knew just what I was there for

You heard me saying a prayer for

Someone I really could care for.


And then there suddenly appeared before me

The only one my arms will ever hold

I heard somebody whisper ‘Please adore me’

And when I looked, the moon had turned to gold!


Blue Moon!

Now I’m no longer alone

Without a dream in my heart

Without a love of my own.

The blue moon is certainly something we can look forward to Wednesday night January 31, 2018. I can envision blue moon gatherings on decks and patios to mark the appearance of this lunar spectacle. I know that some will go so far as to use such an occasion to enjoy an ice cold Blue Moon. This crafted beer is now brewed in Western North Carolina as well as in Colorado. They are advertising “Enjoy a Blue Moon on the Blue Moon.”

And just how often will readers find such an ad repeated in this column?

Well, once in a blue moon.

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