What is the Laba Festival in China?

January 13, 2022

In China, the preparations for Spring Festival start on Laba. The Laba Festival tells Chinese locals that it is time to clean and decorate their homes, and stock up on food and supplies.

But it's also more than that. In fact, the Laba Festival has its own history and significance in Chinese culture.

In this article, we will discuss everything you should know about the Laba Festival, including

What is the Laba Festival?
When is the Laba Festival Celebrated?
The Laba Festival: History and Origins
How is the Laba Festival Celebrated?
What Foods Do People Eat for Laba: Laba Porridge

Laba porridge ingredients

What is the Laba Festival?

The Laba Festival is a traditional holiday in China originally celebrated by farmers who offered a multigrain porridge, among other sacrifices, to gods and ancestors and prayed for good harvest, luck, and prosperity for the upcoming year.

When is the Laba Festival Celebrated?

The Laba Festival, or 腊八节 Làbā Jié, falls on the eighth day of the twelfth and final month (腊月 làyuè) of the Chinese lunar calendar, which is typically in January of the Gregorian calendar.

And for 2024, that day is January 18!

The Laba Festival: History and Origins

One legend of the Laba Festival comes from Buddhism. As the story goes, the Laba Festival was the day that Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, attained enlightenment and became a Buddha.

Before attaining enlightenment, Sakyamuni would sometimes meditate so earnestly that he would forget to eat. One day, on the brink of starvation, Sakyamuni encountered a woman who nursed him back to health with porridge.

This allowed him to continue to meditate until reaching enlightenment on the eighth day of the twelfth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

Thus, the Laba Festival is commemorated by eating porridge.

How is the Laba Festival Celebrated?

Historically speaking, the Laba Festival was a time for families to gather together to offer sacrifices to their ancestors, pray for a good harvest for the year, and to ask for blessings for the family.

What Foods Do People Eat for Laba: Laba Porridge

As far back as the Song Dynasty (960-1279), families would wake up early on Laba to prepare a special congee or porridge, at the crack of dawn. The first bowl of this porridge would be offered to the ancestors, after which the whole family would each have a serving.

Many Buddhist temples would (and still do) offer Laba porridge for free to the poor.

Laba porridge congee

This congee is called Laba porridge (腊八粥 làbāzhōu) and is also known as Eight Treasure Congee (八宝粥 bābǎozhōu) and Buddha porridge (佛粥 fózhōu) Laba porridge ingredients include various types of rice and grains, and mixed with all sorts of nuts, fruits, and seeds.

Now over 1000 years later, the tradition of eating Laba porridge on the Laba Festival persists. No wonder—it is such a nutritious and yummy winter treat!

You may also see Laba garlic in some places. This is vinegar-soaked garlic that has taken on a greenish hue from the pickling process and is typically eaten on the Spring Festival.

Laba Garlic

All in all, the Laba Festival is a prelude to Spring Festival celebrations and a time for praying to the gods for good fortune in the upcoming year. If you have never had Laba porridge yet, better get a big steaming bowl of it asap!

About the Author

Eden has been learning Chinese since 2008. She fell in love with the language, food, and culture and never looked back! Eden lived in China for six years, including in Harbin, Beijing, and Dali.

Eden- Author