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Laba Festival and the Eight-Treasure Porridge

Over 3,000 years ago, people commonly held sacrificial rites called "La" in the 12th lunar month, they offered preys to the gods of heaven and earth. At that time, the Chinese characters for prey and the 12th lunar month were interchangeable, and from then on, "La" had been used to refer to both. Since the festival was held on the 8th day of the last lunar month, people later added the number eight ("ba" in Chinese Pinyin), giving us the current Laba. The majority Han Chinese have long followed the tradition of eating Laba rice porridge on the Laba Festival. On that day, people not only enjoy the food with their family members but also share their food with other families to show their good wishes.

Laba rice porridge is also known as the eight-treasure porridge, referring to the nutritious ingredients used in this porridge. It contains glutinous rice, red beans, millet, sorghum, peas, dried lotus seeds and some other ingredients, such as dried dates, chestnuts, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, melon-seed meat, other dried fruits and brown sugar, kidney beans, pine nuts, etc.
So you can see,there can be more than eight ingredients in the porridge. In fact, ingredients used in the eight-treasure congee are virtually unlimited. Northerners prefer to use glutinous rice, red beans, dates, lotus seeds, dried long'an pulp, walnuts, pine nuts and other dried fruits in their porridge; southerners like a salty porridge prepared with rice, soybeans, peanuts, broad beans, taro, water chestnuts, walnuts, vegetables and diced meat. And some people like to add cinnamon and other condiments to add flavor. The recipe has now become a common meal for many Chinese. Because of its combination of colorful, sweet ingredients that makes the porridge tasty, eating it is not limited to only the eighth day of the 12th lunar month. What's more, it is considered in traditional Chinese medicine as a healthy food that is particularly good for the spleen, stomach and blood.

It is not certain who invented eight-treasure porridge. But one thing certain is that its history can be traced back to ancient times. People held a ceremony to worship gods and ancestors in the last month of the lunar year. The eighth day of that month was considered a day for sacrifice to the gods and ancestors to ensure a peaceful life and a good harvest for the next year.
There are many stories about its origin.

The first legend said like this: Laba Rice Porriage was came from India. Sakyamuni, the son of King Shuddhodana of Kapilavastu. He saw the people were suffered by illness and death and discontented to the Theocratic rule of Brahman, he abandoned kingship and escaped from the palace to Dudu Hill became a monk after studying classics, and the degree of hardship. 

When Sakyamuni was on his way into the high mountains, he grew tired and hungry then fainted away by a river. A shepherdess found him there and fed him her lunch -- porridge made with beans and rice.

After six years of strict discipline, he finally realized his dream of full enlightenment on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. Ever since, monks have prepared rice porridge on the eve and held a ceremony the following day, during which they chant sutras and offer porridge to Buddha.

According to written records, large Buddhist temples would offer Laba rice porridge to the poor to show their faith to Buddha. In the Ming Dynasty about 500 years ago, it became such a holy food that emperors would offer it to their officials during festivals. As it gained favor in the feudal upper class, it also quickly became popular throughout the country.

Another legend told that civilian workers all over the contry were coming for constructing Great Wall under the order of Emperor Qin Shihuang, they could not go home, and their foods were only given by families. Some workers were not given food because to long stance from home, so many of them were dead from starvation. On 8th of one years 12th lunar month, the workers scraped up some corn and miscellaneous grains, put them in a pot and boiled into porriage, every one had a bowl of that porriage, but they were still starved to death under the Great Wall. To mourning these workers, people ate Laba Rice Porriage on 8th of 12th lunar month every year.

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