The Laba Festival
Happy new year and happy Laba festival! Yes, today January 2nd it’s a traditional Chinese festivity called Laba (腊八节). Laba means the 8th (ba) day of the 12th month (which in the Chinese lunar calendar is called la). According to Wikipedia, the Laba festival didn’t use to have a fixed date and it was a celebration of the new harvest. However, since the spread of Buddhism in China during the Han dynasty (first century CE), the festivity was attached to this religion and got the 8th day of the 12th month as its official day to commemorate the enlightenment of the Buddha. According to my mother in law, though, it celebrates the start of winter and she says the real cold will start now (maybe she will allow me to turn on the hot aircon during the day now).
This festival is not a holiday in the sense of not having to work, though; today is still a working day. But there are some customs around this day and the main one is to eat laba congee, a sweet rice congee with ingredients like peanuts, goji berries, red dates, Job’s tears and red beans, among others. Another custom is that Buddhist temples cook huge pots of this congee and give it away for free! My MIL’s sister is a volunteer in Suzhou’s Xiyuan temple and yesterday we went to pick our rations. Traffic around the temple was absolutely crazy but my MIL got her reward: 12 bowls of laba congee. She gave half to her neighbours and now we will be eating congee for a couple of days.
But we only got it yesterday because of my MIL’s sister; the people with no relatives inside the temple have to pick it today. I found some pictures in a Suzhou newspaper about the preparation of the congee:
Laba festival is also the last traditional festivity before Spring Festival or the Chinese New Year… the countdown has officially started now! The Year of the Rat will start on January 25!