What Is Laba Festival In China?

The Chinese people are big on festivals, and the Laba festival is one of the notable festivals celebrated.

The Laba Festival is marked on the 8th day of the last lunar month in the Chinese calendar, and it is traditionally celebrated as the first of the important celebrations held before the New Year celebrations kick-off.

Originally, this festival was held for the Chinese people to offer sacrifices to the ancestors and also to pray to the heavens and the earth for a great harvest and also for good luck and great fortune for the family. After many years, however, the meaning of the celebrations has changed, and it is now a festival or an eating event for the Laba Congee. Laba Congee is a special kind of Chinese porridge that is made of different types of dried nuts, beans, rice, meat, and bean curd.

Others still consider it a festival to commemorate the day that Sakyamuni, who founded Buddhism, realized the truth and turned into a Buddha.

What Does Laba Mean

Laba is made up of two Chinese words, La to means the 12th month in Chinese, and ‘ba’ to means eight.

Laba Festival History

Legend has it that this festival dates back to more than 3000 years ago when sacrificial rites referred to as La were held on the 12th month of the lunar year with the intention to pray to the gods of the earth and the heavens to provide good luck and great fortune in the new year. Since then, a majority of the Han people have observed the tradition and held a festival to mark the day. The festival is often held in mid-January.  

But there is another legend noting that the festival was first introduced in China 900 years ago by and/or during the reign of the Song Dynasty.

It is said to have started at a time when Buddhism was widely accepted, especially in the regions occupied by the Han Chinese that believed in the first Buddha and founder of Buddhism, Sakyamuni had attained enlightenment, and that he had happened on the 8th day of the 12month of the Chinese Lunar year. So, on this day, Sutras would be chanted in temples, and the Laba Congee or rice and beans porridge was made for the Buddha. Over time, this custom extended to the rest of China, but more in the rural areas where the peasants would pray for a good/ plentiful harvest for the year.

Laba Festival Origin

This festival observed in northern and southern Chinese dynasties is believed to have originated from the Buddhist belief about the day of enlightenment for the first Buddha. And on the day, the people celebrated the Buddha’s enlightenment, prayed for a good harvest from the heavens and the earth, and also enjoyed the Laba porridge.

The Qin dynasty’s belief and celebration of the day as the day for celebrating a new harvest is older than the Buddhism one, and it is considered the actual origin of the celebrations.

Laba Festival Food

Laba festival is marked by the presence of one type of food, the Laba porridge. This porridge is made of red beans, glutinous rice, millet, peas, Chinese sorghum, and dried lotus seeds. It may also have meats, dates, and nuts added in. It is cooked with sugar to make it tasty, and it is very nutritious. The northern people add sugar to it; the southern people add salt. It is also considered the most nutritious winter food.

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