Imagine this: on a cold winter day, you are given a bowl of hot rice porridge 粥 (Zhōu) in hands, knowing that there is good harvest 丰收 (Fēngshōu) this year. The rich ingredients in the porridge has given you the strength to fight against the coldness and thus allows you to stay calm and peace in mind. This is what the Chinese do in the end of the year. They celebrate the good harvest of a year and give out hot rice porridge to common people. The Chinese call it the Laba Festival 腊八节 (Làbā jié).
“Laba” is the Chinese words means the 8th day of the 12th lunar month. “La” is the preserved food or meat that the Chinese usually make for the winter, which then is borrowed to indicate the 12th lunar month – 腊月 (Làyuè). “Ba” is the Chinese pronunciation of number “eight” 八 (Bā). Combine the two words, “Laba” – the 8th day of the 12th lunar month – is just the day Śakyamuni Buddha attained his enlightenment 佛陀成道日 (Fótuó chéngdào rì) over 2500 years ago. To remember the Buddha’s teaching and his self-cultivation, the Chinese follow the Buddhist tradition of making rice porridge for the people in need and combine it with the joy of harvest.
It is said that before the Buddha enlightened, this young renouncer Siddhartha Gautama Śakyamuni, in order to find the truth of the universe, had practiced ascetically for six years. He ate only a grain of sesame and a grain of wheat every day. Couldn’t bare the starvation and the lack of nutrition 营养 (Yíngyǎng), the young Śakyamuni was almost dead. Just then, there came across a kind shepherd girl holding an urn of milk-rice porridge 乳糜 (Rǔmí). The shepherd girl 牧羊女 (Mùyáng nǚ) saw the dying Śakyamuni and poured him a bowl of porridge. Being aware that asceticism 苦行 (Kǔxíng) is not the way to find the truth, the young Śakyamuni accepted the rice porridge and thanked the shepherd girl. Gaining the strength from the rich ingredients in the porridge, Gautama Śakyamuni was able to walk and sat under a pippala tree resolving to reach enlightenment through self-realization. After 49 days, he finally attained enlightenment and became the Buddha – the Enlightened One.
Chinese people later adopted the Buddhist merit of offering the porridge to the needed and took this as a tradition to celebrate a year’s hard work and to care for the common people. This year, the Laba Festival is on January 19. If you haven’t taste the laba porridge 腊八粥 (Làbāzhōu), or the eight-treasure porridge 八宝粥 (Bābǎozhōu) before, you could go to some Chinese temple 寺庙 (Sìmiào) and see if they’re giving out the laba porridge . Or, why not find the recipe and cook it by yourself?
More Information about Laba Festival: