Pig­ging out on por­ridge

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - SUN CAN / XIN­HUA

Chil­dren en­joy tra­di­tional laba por­ridge of­fered for free by a lo­cal tem­ple in Nan­jing, Jiangsu prov­ince, dur­ing Sun­day’s Laba Fes­ti­val. On the fes­ti­val day, which falls on the eighth day of the 12th lu­nar month, just be­fore the Lu­nar New Year, it is cus­tom­ary to eat a por­ridge made with eight kinds of in­gre­di­ents — mostly peanuts and grains — to ex­press hopes for good har­vests.

Chi­nese peo­ple be­gan prepara­tory cel­e­bra­tions for Spring Fes­ti­val, their most im­por­tant an­nual hol­i­day, on Sun­day with the Laba Rice Por­ridge Fes­ti­val.

Laba is re­garded as the pre­lude to the com­ing Lu­nar New Year, with peo­ple start­ing their prepa­ra­tions for Spring Fes­ti­val more than 20 days in ad­vance. The 12th lu­nar month in Chi­nese is called la yue, so the eighth day of the lu­nar month is la yue chu ba, or laba.

A folk say­ing goes “when Laba ar­rives, the Spring Fes­ti­val is around the cor­ner”, mean­ing the fes­ti­val marks the start of a se­ries of Spring Fes­ti­val cel­e­bra­tions.

It was orig­i­nally a day of thanks for a good har­vest and for mak­ing sac­ri­fices to an­ces­tors. Ma­jor cus­toms on Laba in­clude eat­ing Laba rice por­ridge and an­ces­tor wor­ship.

On Sun­day, peo­ple lined up in front of tem­ples for free Laba rice por­ridge. Some be­lieve that eat­ing por­ridge will bring hap­pi­ness in the next year.

Peo­ple started to line up in front of Bei­jing’s Yonghe Lama Tem­ple as early as 4 am.

The tem­ple said monks started cook­ing por­ridge on Satur­day af­ter­noon, and be­gan serv­ing it at 8:30 am on Sun­day. Re­ceiv­ing the first bowl is re­garded as a big bless­ing.

Among those lin­ing up for a bowl was an el­derly man in a wheel­chair who has re­ceived a bowl of Laba por­ridge from the Yonghe Lama Tem­ple ev­ery year since 1984.

A woman drove from Qin­huang­dao, He­bei prov­ince, for a bowl, start­ing her jour­ney at dawn on Sun­day. She asked for bless­ings for her newly mar­ried daugh­ter.

The tem­ple stopped serv­ing por­ridge at about 11 am, after more than 8,500 peo­ple were fed from 98 pots.

In Shang­hai, Jiad­ing Huguo Tem­ple handed out 3,200 bowls of Laba por­ridge.

There are sev­eral leg­ends about how the tra­di­tion be­gan. Some claim it is of Bud­dhist ori­gin, while some say the por­ridge, made of rice and sticky rice, can ex­or­cise evil from chil­dren. Oth­ers say the por­ridge is eaten in mem­ory of a poor cou­ple.

Aside from the main in­gre­di­ents, peo­ple also add sugar, red dates, lo­tus seeds, wal­nuts, chest­nuts, al­monds, lon­gans, hazel­nuts, raisins, red beans, peanuts, wa­ter cal­trops and other in­gre­di­ents to make the por­ridge spe­cial.

The cus­tom of eat­ing por­ridge at Laba is well-es­tab­lished in his­tory, from the royal court to the com­mon peo­ple.

ZHANG WEI / CHINA DAILY

Peo­ple line up at Bei­jing’s Yonghe Lama Tem­ple for free Laba rice por­ridge on Sun­day. One tra­di­tion says that eat­ing the por­ridge will bring hap­pi­ness in the com­ing year.

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