The Laba Festival, which heralds the beginning of the Spring Festival, is still celebrated with some ancient customs. The Laba Festival is a traditional Chinese holiday celebrated on the eighth day of the 12th month of the lunar Chinese calendar. “La” is the name of that month and eight is pronounced “ba” in Chinese. Most of its customs have been preserved in northern China.
People in ancient China celebrated the Laba Festival by worshiping ancestors and gods and praying for good harvests. It had not been on a fixed day until the Southern and Northern dynasties, when it was influenced by Buddhism and got its fixed date on the eighth day of the 12th month. The date was said to be the enlightenment day of the Buddha, and many customs of the Laba Festival are related to Buddhism. During the Qing dynasty, ceremonies for the Laba Festival were held in the Yonghe Temple in Beijing. Later it became a time to pray to heaven for bountiful harvests and good luck in the coming year. Family celebrations included a sacrificial offering to ancestors.
What to eat on this day?
Laba congee is the most important element of the festival in northern China. Warm congee is good in cold weather and generally includes glutinous rice, red beans, millet, Chinese sorghum, peas, dried lotus seeds and some other ingredients like dried dates, chestnuts, and walnuts. The congee must be boiled with sugar for at least four hours and it is a tradition that family members eat it together. They leave some as a symbol of hope for a good harvest the coming year. People from Shanxi may eat Laba noodles instead.
Prepare for the Spring Festival
The Chinese say the Laba Festival is the beginning of the Spring Festival. Another custom is to soak Laba garlic in vinegar for more than twenty days starting from the day of the festival. When the Spring Festival comes, the garlic and vinegar is used with dumplings, the food that every Chinese enjoys on the Lunar New Year’s Eve.
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