Mid-Autumn Moon Festival: Moon Gladness

By UBC Botanical Garden | Garden News

Mid Autumn Moon Festival at Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden in Vancouver

Not-To-Be-Missed! Mid-Autumn Moon Festival 中秋节 Zhōngqiū Jié:  Moon Gladness

It happens every year and every year it seems to take us by surprise as we begin the move away from the yang sun and the heat of summer toward the yin moon and the months ruled by the cool and dark of the night sky. We wake up one day and it’s autumn in the garden. “What happened?”

Autumn is kind to gardeners – there is still some warmth and sun, in patches, and the crisp and cool feels invigorating. Gardens are still producing almost more than we can eat and the winter veggies are sprouted, which is rewarding.

Autumn slides in; the first hint is when the quality of the light seems to change. It always happens as a ‘ooh’ moment. It’s hard to describe what the change is, but the word that always comes to mind is poignant. A whispering harbinger of the season changing. Night changes too; think of autumn’s largest moon, golden, with its ‘faces’ most visible. 

Mid Autumn Moon Festival at Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden in Vancouver at night

Moon-wise, 2018 is an unusual year. There will be 13 full moons, none of which were in February and two of which are blue moons (January and March). In current terms, a blue moon happens when there is a second full moon in a month. They happen once every 2.7 years, which gives a definitive number to the phrase ‘once in a blue moon.’

Full moons are often named to correspond what is happening in the natural world:

Chinese Moon names - moon festival

People around the world celebrate seasons; harvest festivals feature prominently. The second most important Chinese lunar festival, Mid-Autumn Moon Festival 中秋节, falls on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese lunar calendar, September 24 this year, the night of the full moon. The day has been

Mid Autumn Moon Festival at Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden - moon cakescelebrated in China since the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE).  It’s a harvest festival celebrating the abundance of summer and the importance of family. A time to gather; some call it the Festival of Reunion. The event is increasingly celebrated in and by gardens, such as Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (  中山公园 Zhong Shan Gong Yuan) and Portland’s Lansu Garden)

Like all festivals, there are traditions associated with the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival; where you celebrate, what you eat, what stories you tell and how you decorate. The full moon is a metaphor for a family reunion, a never-ending circle. For centuries, a feature of the evening has been gazing at the moon, admiring its beauty, knowing that family and friends not with you were doing the same, the moon connecting everyone.

It’s a family celebration, traditionally at home, but more often now a family gathering in a restaurant.  Each family has its own tradition of what dishes are a ‘must’ for the meal, but everyone includes mooncakes.  

Mooncakes 月饼

Traditional mooncakes have a thin, tender pastry skin enveloping a sweet dense filling, usually red bean or lotus, and may contain one or more whole salted duck egg yolks to symbolize the full moon. They are made in special molds that form the shape and leave an imprint on the top and are eaten in small wedges with tea.  Traditional Moon Cakes

If you are ambitious, try making your own mooncakes, here’s a recipe for traditional lotus seed mooncakes.  Yum.  When googling for the recipe; it was immediately apparent that there are many to choose from. Molds and other things you need can be found on Amazon or in culinary shops. Ming Wo’s in Vancouver, just across the street from Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, comes to mind. One exciting discovery was that mooncake flavours have expanded beyond the traditional into almost every flavour imaginable. Fun.  Here’s a list of 10 favourite mooncakes in China: Five Kernel and Port, Red Bean Paste, Lotus Seed Paste, Snow-Skin, Fruit and Vegetable, Chocolate, Green Tea, Ice Cream, Cream Cheese and Seafood.  Buying is also an option; every Chinese bakery has a selection and they almost always come in great packaging.

Hairy crabs 大闸蟹

Besides mooncakes, another autumn delicacy that dominates Chinese Moon Festival menus is steamed hairy crabs along with a plate of ginger and vinegar. Hairy crabs are also known as Chinese mitten crabs because of their furry claws. They spend most of their lives in fresh water and return to the sea to breed.

Mid Autumn Moon Festival at Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden in downtown Vancouver

Poetry 诗歌

Chinese literature has many well-known Mid-Autumn Moon Festival poems. In earlier days, they were sung/recited and formed part of the evening’s entertainment.  ‘Thoughts in the Silent Night’ by Li Bai is one such poem. He used four lines of five characters to express his homesickness at the Moon (Mid-Autumn) Festival.

Li Bai Poem - MoonsStory-Telling

One of the most famous Mid-Autumn Moon Festival stories, The Legend of Chang er,  is an enduring love story that tells of the characters involved in solving the problem of ten suns in the sky and what happened to them afterward.Mid Autumn Moon Festival at Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden


The Osmanthus is the flower most associated with the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. It’s prized for its sweet-smelling and edible flowers which bloom at festival time.

If you want to celebrate the festival outside your home, there are a number of great options to choose from.  Watch this space in a few days for “where to go’ ideas, including Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden which celebrates their Mid-Autumn Festival on Friday, September 21.

If you enjoyed this article, take a looks at our single day cultural garden trip itinerary within the City of Vancouver.