THE Laba Festival is a major festival in La month (the 12th month on the Chinese lunar calendar), falling on its eighth day. On the Gregorian calendar this year, it falls on January 13. Laba is also regarded as a prelude to the Spring Festival, or the Chinese New Year, as there are only three weeks left before its coming. This festival is more than 1,000 years old. The ancient Chinese made sacrifices to their ancestors and the deities on this day to wish for bountiful harvests and good luck over the next year. In many parts of China, people cook Laba porridge as a way of celebration.
Origin of the Laba Festival
Everyone knows this festival in China, but how did it come into being?
In ancient times, the Chinese called the act of making sacrifices to their ancestors, la, and the day of sacrifice giving to wish for safety, harvest, and health “the day of la.” As the Laba festival was on the 12th lunar month, this month was consequently called “month of la.”
Pupils from Nanjing City are having their own bowls of Laba Porridge on January 24, 2018.
The day of la has different names in different dynasties. It was fixed on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589). Some say it was the day when Sakyamuni became Buddha, and that’s why it is a grand Buddhist festival.
Laba Festival Legends
There are also many legends about the origins of this festival, among which the following three are the most widespread.
It is said that Emperor Zhuan Xu, one of the Five Emperors in the early ancient times of China, had three sons who became evil after death. They popped up all the time to frighten children. People at that time were superstitious. They were afraid of gods and ghosts, and believed that these were the controllers of people’s health, and the only effective way to get rid of the three evil spirits were showing them two kinds of small red beans. Therefore, people picked one day in a year to make porridge with these small red beans to scare away the evil spirits.
Local residents burn incense as a way of praying at the Ciyunchan Temple in Huai’an, Jiangsu Province, on January 17, 2016, during the traditional Laba Festival.
Others say it is to commemorate Yue Fei, the Southern Song Dynasty’s famous general in Chinese history. When Yue resisted the Jin invaders in the town of Zhuxian during a harsh winter, his soldiers were both starving and cold. Local people all sent porridge to them, and at the end, they returned triumphant. As this happened on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month, later people marked this day by cooking porridge with miscellaneous grains and dried fruits to commemorate Yue Fei.
Another story is about Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is said that things were tough before Zhu became the emperor. On the wintry eighth day of the 12th lunar month, he was starving and cold, when he suddenly found some red beans, rice, dates, and other cereals while foraging around a rat hole. Zhu made porridge with them for a meal. Later when he became emperor, he designated that day a holiday, and named the life-saving porridge as laba porridge.
As an important festival in China, the main theme of this holiday is worship, commemoration, and ce-lebration. Besides this, there are also many customs unique to this day.
Laba Porridge: On this day, every household cooks laba porridge, which includes nearly 20 kinds of cereals, beans, nuts, and dried fruit. In the Qing Dynasty (1644 -1911), eating laba porridge was once in vogue. In the imperial palace, the emperor, his empress, and his sons normally sent their civil and military ministers as well as their servants laba porridge as a reward for their hard work on this day. They also sent cereals and fruits to monasteries. In every household, people made laba porridge for meals or to send to their friends and relatives.
Laba garlic: In most parts of north China, people make laba garlic by steeping garlic cloves in vinegar in a sealed can or glass bottle and putting it in a cold corner. The vinegar makes the garlic emerald green, while the vinegar itself is infused with the good taste of the garlic.
Laba Tofu: Also named vegetarian ham, it is a local specialty from east China’s Anhui Province. In Qianxian County of Anhui, when laba approaches, people air and dry a kind of tofu, which is made of soybean, and five kinds of spices. Laba tofu looks like jade, and tastes soft and salty-sweet.
Laba Noodle: It is a popular food in the central Shaanxi plain in west China. People eat laba noodle every year on the morning of this day. It is made by first steeping beans in water for a whole night to soften them, and then, next morning, first boiling soup with the soft beans and then stewing it over a low flame. Next, noodles are boiled with the soup and to finish off, stir-fried chopped green onions are mixed with the noodles.