Bless­ing in­grained with por­ridge

Shanghai Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

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.


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