Guest Author - Inci Yilmazli
Chinese Laba Festival is celebrated on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. The name Laba stands for the Chinese meanings of the twelfth month which is “la” month and eight which is “ba”. This is a traditional festival of Han nationality. Laba Festival has its origin from the “la” ceremony.
Agriculture has always been very important for Chinese people. Therefore, whenever they have good harvest, it was thought to have resulted from gods’ blessings and the harvest was celebrated with a big ceremony which was called a “la ceremony”. After the ceremony, people would eat Laba rice porridge which contains different kinds of rice, beans, nuts, and meat.
Legend of Laba Festival
According to one story, Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, became a Buddha on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. After practicing Buddhism for years and dealing with hunger, he was about to give up. However, a shepherd girl helped him with porridge and rice. Then he regained his energy and didn’t have to give up. He continued practicing and on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, he became a Buddha. In rememberance of that day, Buddhists began to make porridge, which is called ‘laba porridge’,on that day every year.
Eating Laba porridge has become a custom among the Chinese in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and it became more popular during the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911). For over one thousand years, Chinese people eat Laba porridge on the Laba Festival. This is a way to honor their ancestors and celebrate the harvest.
Making the Laba Porridge
There are various kinds of laba porridge. As you can guess, the traditional laba porridge includes eight main and eight supplementary ingredients in accordance with “ba” in Laba porridge. The main ingredients are chosen from various kinds of beans, rice, nuts, and meat while the supplementary ingredients are chosen from various fruits.
When the ingredients are decided, the preparations begin on the seventh night of that month. The rice is washed, the fruits are steeped and peeled, the good ones are picked. Then, they are all put in a pot full of water and cooked on a slow fire. Afterwards, sweet seasonings are added. The porridge is cooked all night long and is ready the next morning. Depending on the personal preference, the porridge can also be colored by adding different kinds of paste. In some families, the fruits are carved in the shape of people or animals.
When the Laba porridge is done, first, it’s offered to gods and ancestors as the sacrifice. Then the porridge will be offered to the relatives and friends. After sharing the porridge, the whole family gets together and celebrate the festival by enjoying Laba porridge. If, there is still leftover Laba porridge after a few days, it’s considered to be a good sign and interpreted as there will be leftovers every year*.
*Wei Liming, Chinese Festivals, 2010.