What is the Laba Festival in China?

January 13, 2022

In the preparations for Spring Festival, we would not blame you if you had forgotten all about the Laba Festival.

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.

And for 2022, that day is January 10!

Laba porridge ingredients

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.

Laba Porridge

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.

As far back as the Song Dynasty (960-1279), families would wake up early 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

If you have not had your Laba porridge yet, better grab a pot and get a big steaming bowl ready for dinner!