People have been celebrating the Laba Festival, also known as the Laba Rice Porridge Festival, for centuries in China. It falls on the eighth day of the twelfth month of the lunar calendar, which usually falls in January or February of the Gregorian calendar.
Besides eating Laba congee, the Laba Festival also involves various religious and cultural activities. Many visit temples and pagodas to pray for a bountiful harvest, good health, and prosperity. Some temples even hold special ceremonies and performances to commemorate the festival.
People observe some traditional customs and traditions throughout the festival. People may decorate their homes with red lanterns and paper cut-outs to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. It is also common to exchange Laba gifts, including items such as dried fruits, nuts, and grains.
The Laba Festival holds great cultural significance in Chinese society. It is a time for families to come together and celebrate, and it is also an opportunity to express gratitude for the past year and look forward to the future.
Another touching story: When Shakyamuni was on his way to the high mountains in his quest for understanding and enlightenment, he was tired and hungry. Exhausted from days of walking, he passed out by a river in India. A shepherdess found him there and gave him lunch – a porridge of beans and rice. Shakyamuni was thus able to continue his journey.
After six years of strict discipline, he finally realized his dream of full enlightenment on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. From then on, the monks prepared rice porridge in the evening and held a ceremony the next day in which they chanted sutras and offered the porridge to the Buddha. Thus, the tradition of eating Laba porridge was based on religion, although the food itself eventually became a popular winter food, especially in cold northern China. According to written records, large Buddhist temples offered Laba rice porridge to the poor to show their faith in the Buddha. In the Ming Dynasty about 500 years ago, it became such a sacred dish that emperors offered it to their officials during festivals. Gaining the favour of the feudal upper class, he quickly became popular throughout the country.
Laba rice porridge contains glutinous rice, red beans, millet, Chinese sorghum seed, peas, dried lotus seeds, red beans and some other ingredients such as dried dates, chestnuts, walnuts, almonds, peanuts, etc. We use eight ingredients and cook them with sugar to make the porridge tasty. Northerners prefer to use glutinous rice, red beans, dates, lotus seeds, dried longan pulp, walnuts, pine nuts and other dried fruits in their porridge; southerners like a savoury porridge made from rice, soybeans, peanuts, beans, taro, water chestnuts, walnuts, vegetables and chopped meat. Besides Laba porridge, many types of pickled vegetables and speciality dishes are popular at the Laba Festival, including pickled garlic and pickled Chinese cabbage. Laba mulled wine is popular throughout China during the Festival.
Traditional Uses in TCM:
Cooked nuts and dried fruits are good for calming the nerves, nourishing the heart and vitality, and strengthening the spleen. The custom of eating Laba porridge is not only an expression of respect for Buddha and the ancestral spirits. Laba porridge is also a very nourishing and healthful food. In his encyclopedic classic of herbal medicine Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica), eminent Ming Dynasty physician Li Shizhen states that rice porridge “increases the life force, produces saliva, nourishes the spleen and stomach, and resolves sweating because of weak constitution or health.”
Dried Longan Pulp – Property – Sweet, warm; heart and spleen meridians entered.
Actions – Strengthen heart and spleen, nourish the blood to induce tranquilization.
Indications – Heart and spleen deficiency, palpitation, insomnia, qi and blood deficiency due to chronic diseases.
Sorghum seed – Property – Sweet, astringent, warm; spleen, stomach and lung meridians entered.
Actions – Strengthen the spleen, check diarrhoea, resolve phlegm and induce tranquilization.
Indications – Insomnia, dreaminess, indigestion, cough caused by phlegm and dampness, diarrhoea caused by spleen deficiency, cholera.
Water chestnut – Property – Sweet, cold; lung and stomach meridians entered.
Actions – Clear heat and promote the secretion of body fluid, resolve phlegm and promote digestion.
Indications – Diabetes, jaundice, indigestion, dysentery, hot eyes, sore throat, heat stranguria, cough due to phlegm-heat, excrescence.
Cations – It is contraindicated in case of deficiency cold and blood deficiency.
Lotus Seed – Property – Sweet, astringent, neutral; spleen, kidney and heart meridians entered.
Actions – Tonify spleen to check diarrhoea, tonify kidney and secure essence, stop leukorrhagia, nourish heart and induce tranquilization.
Indications – Diarrhea and dysentery due to spleen deficiency; seminal emission and spermatorrhea; leukorrhagia; palpitation and insomnia
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