Blessing ingrained with porridge
AT dawn, Buddhist temples across China yesterday started to hand out Laba congee, a special meal served at the Laba Festival, which ushers in the Lunar New Year celebrations.
Despite the cold, tourists and citizens in Nanjing, capital of east China’s Jiangsu Province, queued up in front of the Pilu Temple for the free porridge.
“The congee is a blessing for the new year, I got up early in the morning,” said local resident Shang Aihua.
The Laba porridge is made from a dozen varieties of grains, including glutinous rice, red beans, millet, Chinese sorghum, peas and dried lotus seeds.
Laba falls on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month. The Laba Festival is considered a prelude to the Spring Festival, or Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on February 5, this year.
Chinese people believe the festival meal of Laba congee bears the auspicious meaning of a shared wish for harvest and abundance.
The Laba Festival is also an important holiday in Buddhism. Temples offer porridge to the public to commemorate the Buddha and deliver his blessings.
Qiu Lin, a volunteer at the Pilu Temple, said workers started preparations for the congeegiving two weeks ago.
“The steaming and sweet food bring warmth and blessings to everyone,” said Qiu.
At the Beijing Folk Museum, located inside the Dongyue Temple in Chaoyang District, a shed was put up for the congeegiving. Volunteers scooped out congee from big steel cauldrons.
Zhu Yi, head of the museum’s information center, said the Laba custom has been observed by both the imperial families and commoners since the Song Dynasty (960-1279). It has sustained the Chinese tradition of thanksgiving and sharing.
The museum will hold a series of folk cultural activities that started yesterday and continue until February 9.
In Lanzhou, capital of northwest China’s Gansu Province, primary school students were organized to make paintings with grains.
Community activity organizer Zhang Min said getting to know the ingredients for making Laba congee can inspire children to share the feeling of harvest, and learn Chinese traditions and folk customs.
In Zhangzhuang Village, central China’s Henan Province, villager Zhang Yanmei was entrusted by the village committee to cook the Laba congee.
“As the legend goes, once when General Yue Fei in the Song Dynasty led his troops through Henan, his army was short of food,” Zhang explained while cooking. “Villagers took out their own grains to cook a cauldron of porridge for the soldiers.”
The porridge-giving was a warm-up to other festive activities. Many shops started to sell sugar-coated figurines and malt sugar, the traditional Chinese candy for the Spring Festival.