[ 2007-01-25 14:16 ]
Laba is celebrated on the eighth day of the last lunar
month, referring to the traditional start of celebrations for the Chinese New
Year. "La" in Chinese means the 12th lunar month and "ba" means
Legends about the origin of this festivity abound. One holds that
over 3,000 years ago sacrificial rites called "La "(腊) were held in the twelfth
lunar month when people offered their preys to the gods of heaven and
earth. The Chinese characters for prey (猎物) and the twelfth month (腊) were
interchangeable then, and ever since "La" has been used to refer to both.
Since the festival was held on the eighth day of the Last month, people
later appended the number eight ("ba" in Chinese), giving us the current
The majority Han Chinese have long followed the tradition of
eating Laba rice porridge on the Laba Festival. The date usually falls in
Laba rice porridge（粥） was first
introduced to China in the Song Dynasty about 900 years ago.
Buddhism was well accepted in the areas inhabited by the
Han Chinese, who believed that Sakyamuni（释迦牟尼）, the first Buddha and founder of
the religion, attained enlightenment on the eighth day of the twelfth month.
Sutras（佛经） were chanted in the temples and rice porridge with
beans, nuts and dried fruit was prepared for the Buddha. With the passing of
time the custom extended, especially in rural areas where peasants would pray
for a plentiful harvest in this way.
There is, however, another touching
story: When Sakyamuni was on his way into the high mountains in his quest（寻求）
for understanding and enlightenment, he grew tired and hungry. Exhausted from
days of walking, he fainted away by a river in India. A shepherdess found him
there and fed him her lunch -- porridge made with beans and rice. Sakyamuni was
thus able to continue his journey.
After six years of strict discipline,
he finally realized his dream of full enlightenment on the eighth day of the
twelfth lunar month. Ever since, monks have prepared rice porridge on the eve
and held a ceremony the following day, during which they chant sutras and offer
porridge to Buddha. Thus, the tradition of eating Laba porridge was based in
religion, though with the passing of time the food itself became a popular
winter dish especially in cold northern China.
According to written
records, large Buddhist temples would offer Laba rice porridge to the poor to
show their faith to Buddha. In the Ming Dynasty about 500 years ago, it became
such a holy food that emperors would offer it to their officials during
festivals. As it gained favor in the feudal （封建的）upper class, it also quickly
became popular throughout the country.
Laba Rice Porridge
Laba rice porridge contains glutinous rice （糯米）, red beans, millet, Chinese
sorghum, peas, dried lotus seeds, red beans and some other ingredients, such as
dried dates, chestnut meat, walnut meat, almond, peanut, etc. Actually eight
ingredients（配料、成分） are used, cooked with sugar to make the porridge
Northerners prefer to use glutinous rice, red beans, dates, lotus
seeds, dried pulp（果肉）, walnuts （胡桃）,
pine nuts and other dried fruits in their porridge; southerners like a salty
porridge prepared with rice, soybeans（大豆）, peanuts, broad beans, taro, water
chestnuts, walnuts, vegetables and diced meat. In the north, it is a dessert
with sugar added; in the south, salt is put in. Some people like to add cinnamon
and other condiments to add flavor.
Controlling the heat is of great
importance in making Laba porridge. At the start, the flame must be high, but
the fire is then turned down to let the porridge simmer until it begins to emit
a very delicious smell. The process is time-consuming but not complicated.
Laba porridge is not only easy to prepare, but also a nutritious winter food
because it contains amino acids, protein, vitamins and other nutrition people
need. Cooked nuts and dried fruit are good for soothing nerves, nourishing one's
heart and vitality, and strengthening the spleen. Perhaps that is why it is also
called babao (Eight Treasure) porridge.