While Chinese New Year is the most important celebration in the Chinese calendar, the lead up to its grand festivities isn’t without occasion either. On the eighth day of the 12th lunar month, a few weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, traditional Chinese families would celebrate the Laba Festival.
Based on the Chinese character for “8”, which is “ba”, and the 12th month, which is “Layue”, the two most important traditions associated with the Laba Festival are eating a special delicacy called the Laba porridge, and praying for peace and good health in the coming year.
Laba porridge or Laba congee is made using different kinds of rice, Chinese dates, ormosia, peanuts, and melon seeds. It has long been a symbol of good fortune, long life, and a fruitful harvest.
The origin of the Laba Festival is thought to have been a harvest celebration with the people of the 10th-century Song Dynasty, as sacrificial activities to the ancestors are called “La” and usually take place on the 12th month, or the “La” month.
The festival has also been linked to the story of Buddha. When Sakyamuni, the founder of the Buddhist faith, attained enlightenment, legend has it that he achieved this on the 8th day of the 12th month. During Sakyamuni’s six years of seeking enlightenment, he ate nothing but rice. As such, porridge is made during this festival in commemoration.
In the past, devout Buddhists presented gifts of Laba porridge to the emperor and local officials. Today, it is customary for friends, family, and neighbours to bring each other Laba congee to wish one another well.
The custom of eating Laba porridge is not only an expression of thanksgiving, and showing respect for Buddha and the ancestral spirits; it is also a very nourishing and healthy food. It can improve one’s health by nourishing the spleen and stomach and healing the nerves.
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