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Traditional Chinese Culture: The Laba Rice Porridge Festival

It’s the 8th day of the Lunar month. You woke up to a waft of delicious aroma that slowly filled the air. The fragrance appealed to your still dull senses. Gradually, as your consciousness comes to life, you hear the sound of the rising steam from the kitchen. You smile and head for the kitchen.

With your family, you partake in a delicious bowl of soup. Every bite sends a lasting warmth throughout the body. Every sip awakes your still sleeping mind. You savor every bite till the last drop. “Another bowl please,” you implored with excitement.

The scene above is familiar, isn’t it? Thousands, perhaps even millions of people, experienced this scene in China. It is a common scene during the 8th day of the 12th Lunar month, for, on this day, Chinese people celebrate the Laba Festival. The Laba Festival, also known as the Laba Rice Porridge Festival, is a traditional Chinese holiday celebrated annually. People celebrate this festival during the 8th day of the 12th Lunar month. “La” pertains to the 12th lunar month, and “8” is pronounced as “ba” in Chinese, which translates as “Laba.”

The origins of this festival spark heavy debate. After all, there are several legends about its origin, and no one can tell which one is accurate. Nonetheless, the fog around its ancestry does not dampen the essence of the practice and traditions during its celebration. However, the festival started as a practice of sacrificial offering to ancestors. It was also a time for the ancient Chinese to pray to heaven and earth for a bountiful harvest. Furthermore, many people hoped for good luck for the coming year.

This year, the Laba festival falls on January 2.

The Laba Festival is one of the most imperative traditional celebrations in China. Chinese people celebrate this festival by cooking delicious and filling porridges. The porridge usually contains eight central ingredients: glutinous rice, red beans, millet, Chinese sorghum, peas, dried lotus seeds, and an optional final ingredient such as dried dates, chestnut meat, walnut meat, almond, peanut, etc. The porridge usually boils for hours to maximize the flavor and texture. Before noontime, they offer it as a sacrifice to the ancestors.

It is customary during this festival for families to gather. Together, they share a hearty meal. In addition to eating Laba rice porridge, there are other customs during this festival, such as ancestor worship and making Laba garlic. Let’s learn more details about this festival.

  1. 1. Ancestor Worship 祭祀 (Jì Sì)

The worship of ancestors, called “腊” in Chinese, and the sacrifice for the gods, called “蜡”, both frequently took place in the 12th month, which led to the traditional name of the month: la yue. And the day of sacrifice is called la ri.

  • 2. Eating Laba Rice Porridge喝腊八粥 (Hē Là Bā Zhōu)

Making Laba porridge has a  rich history in China. It has been around for thousands of years. People celebrated this festival even before civilization modernized. That explains why this event is incredibly important. Laba porridge has different variations. However, it is a practice that Chinese people must start to prepare on the night of the seventh day of the twelfth lunar month. During his time, they wash the rice, pick it up, and then simmer it to be ready in the morning.

Laba porridge usually consists of rice and sticky rice. People also add sugar, red dates, lotus seeds, walnuts, chestnuts, almonds, longans, hazelnuts, raisins, red beans, peanuts, water caltrops, rose-leaf, and other various materials to make the porridge special.

  • 3. Pickled Laba Garlic腌腊八蒜 (Yān Là Bā Suàn)

The Laba Festival is also an incredible time to make Pickled Laba Garlic. Most parts of North China have the custom of soaking garlic in vinegar on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month.

On this day, they put the peeled garlic cloves on a clean jar, pour in old vinegar, seal, and ferment for several days. A well-made Laba garlic has a crystal clear green body, a hot and sour taste, and a unique fermented flavor.

The Laba Festival is one of the most revered festivals in China. It holds traditional importance to the people. Not only does it signify the long, rich history of Chinese tradition, but it also shows how close-knitted families are.

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