Laba Rice Porridge Festival falls on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month, referring to offer sacrifice to ancestors and god and hope a good harvest in the coming year. ‘La’ in Chinese means the 12th lunar month and ‘Ba’ means eight. People cook and eat Laba Rice Porridge on that day which has a history of over one thousand years in China.
This tradition originated from Indian Buddhism. Legend has it that Sakyamuni became a Buddhist under a banyan on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. Afterwards, people would have rice porridge on this day in memory of the Buddha's sufferings. Also, Laba Rice Porridge would be cooked on this day in temples in many places. It would be sacrificed to the Buddha first and then given out to disciples and the poor. Since Laba Rice Porridge was believed to be blessed with good fortune and longevity, it was also called "Longevity Blessing Porridge" and "Virtue Blessing Porridge".
In ancient times, Laba Rice Porridge was prepared on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month in courts, officials' mansions, temples and common people's homes. This custom became more prevalent in the Qing Dynasty. On this day, the emperor, empress and princes in the royal court would bestow Laba Rice Porridge to civil and military ministers as well as attendants and maids of honor. Also, they would give out rice, fruits and other materials to monks in temples. Meanwhile, every common family would cook Laba Rice Porridge and offer sacrifice to their ancestors. Then all family members would get together to have the porridge.
After being introduced to China, this custom was combined with quite a lot of Chinese traditional ones. For example, the cooked Laba Rice Porridge would be sacrificed to ancestors first. Also, having Laba Rice Porridge with part of it uneaten would be regarded as luckiness and wealthiness; well-off families would give out porridge to the poor for they believed such charitable move would help to accumulate their own virtue. It is also a custom in some regions to daub Laba Rice Porridge onto fruit trees in the hope of a good harvest and auspice in the coming year.
How to Cook
Laba rice porridge contains glutinous rice, red beans, millet, Chinese sorghum, peas, dried lotus seeds and some other ingredients, such as dried dates, chestnut meat, walnut meat, almond, peanut, etc.
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.