What is Laba ( 腊八节 là bā jié)?
The Laba Festival is celebrated on the eighth day of the 12th month in the Chinese lunar calendar, marking the start of preparations for the Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year.
In ancient China, Laba Festival was not set on a specific day in the 12th lunar month but fell on the day three weeks after the Winter Solstice.
After the Southern and Northern dynasties (420-589) when Buddhism was widely spread in China, the Laba Festival was fixed to the eighth day of the twelfth month for the enlightenment day of the Buddha, the Bodhi Day.
Under the influences of Buddhism, many customs of the festival are related to Buddhism and the spirit of being kind to other people.
Laba congee (腊八粥 là bā zhōu)
The biggest element in the day is Laba congee, a kind of multi-grain congee with dried fruits and nuts.
The ingredients of the congee may differ from regions and preferences. But most homes would definitely include dried dates, peanuts, lotus seeds and sugar.
Traditionally, the congee was prepared by the women of the household at first light, with the first bowl offered to the family’s ancestors and the household deities. Every member of the family was then served a bowl, with leftovers distributed to relatives and friends.
Temples would also establish a congee kitchen to distribute free Laba congee to people.
The custom is also widely used among social institutions, as a way of showing gratitude and good wishes to others, as the photos show.
Laba garlic (腊八蒜 là bā suàn)
In northern parts of China, people start to preserve Laba garlic on the day of Laba Festival.
Garlic gloves are pickled in black vinegar for roughly two weeks.
The garlic is ready to eat when the whole glove has turned green and tastes sour and slightly spicy.
The Lunar garlic is a perfect side dish for dumplings or jiaozi and meat that are eaten during the Spring Festival.
The vinegar is also not something to be wasted. It has a unique garlic-fused flavor and a delicious dressing for dumplings and meat.