The Full Cold Moon of December comes late for Christmas tonight

a bright, full moon taking up most of the photo in a starry sky
An illustration of the Full Cold Moon of December as it will appear in the night sky on Dec. 26. (Image credit: Chris Vaughan/Starry Night)

The final full moon of 2023, December's Cold Full Moon, will rise on Tuesday (Dec. 26) in time to catch the festive season but just missing Christmas Day. 

According to In the Sky, the fully-illuminated Cold Moon will rise at around 3:05 p.m. EST (2005 GMT), with the sun setting at 16:33 EST (2133 GMT). The full moon will set at around 8:12 a.m. EST (1312 GMT) the following day after the sun has risen around an hour earlier at 7:16 a.m. EST (1216 GMT), meaning the Cold Moon will be visible for the entire night. 

In the build-up to the final full moon of 2023, as the festive season approached, the moon has risen an hour earlier each day, and the portion of the illuminated lunar face has been growing, or "waxing." Following the Cold Moon and leading up to the first new moon of 2024, which falls on Jan. 11 and marks the first full lunar cycle of 2024, the moon will rise an hour later each day and will be visible for less and less of the night. 

As this happens, the illuminated lunar face will recede, a progression that astronomers called "waning." By the time of the new moon, the lunar face will be completely dark, and the moon will rise at sunrise and set at sunset.

Related: Full moon calendar 2023: When to see the next full moon

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The main name for December's full moon, the Cold Moon, is attributed to the tradition of the Mohawk people, according to the Farmer's Almanac. The name refers to the icy conditions of December as the grip of winter tightens around the Northern Hemisphere. 

Alternative names for December's full moon from Native American traditions also reflect the increasingly frigid conditions and the deepening of winter. These include the "Snow Moon" in the Haida and Cherokee traditions and the Western Abenaki people’s moniker for the December full moon, the "Winter Maker Moon."

Other names for December's full moon describe how the depths of winter impact flora and fauna. These include the Cree's wonderfully evocative "Frost Exploding Trees Moon" and the Oglala people's "Moon of the Popping Trees" name. These nature-based monikers also include the Dakota people’s incredibly descriptive name for the December full moon, the "Moon When the Deer Shed Their Antlers."

The Mohican name for the December full moon, the "Long Night Moon," refers to the fact it rises on the nights close to the winter solstice, which are the longest nights of the year. That name is particularly apt this year as December 2023's full moon will linger over the horizon for longer than most full moons this year due to its proximity to the Winter Solstice  —  the day of the year with the least sunlight hours, which this year occurred on Thursday, Dec. 21

The next full moon and the first of the coming year is January's Wolf Moon, which rises on Jan. 25, 2024. 

If you are hoping to catch an up-close look at the next full moon, our guides to the best telescopes and best binoculars are a great place to start.

If you’re looking to snap photos of these celestial objects or the night sky in general, check out our guide on how to photograph the moon, as well as our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.

Editor's Note: If you snap December's full moon and would like to share it with Space.com’s readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to spacephotos@space.com. 

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Robert Lea
Contributing Writer

Robert Lea is a science journalist in the U.K. whose articles have been published in Physics World, New Scientist, Astronomy Magazine, All About Space, Newsweek and ZME Science. He also writes about science communication for Elsevier and the European Journal of Physics. Rob holds a bachelor of science degree in physics and astronomy from the U.K.’s Open University. Follow him on Twitter @sciencef1rst.