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Laba Festival: China's Day for Bumper Harvest
Today is January first in solar calendar, the New Year for everyone. It is also December eighth in Chinese lunar calendar, or Laba in Chinese words, which is a traditional festival with a long history. Laba festival was derived from celebration of ancient people on agriculatural bumper. Ancient Chinese would have on the Day worshipped and thanked god(dess)s, ancestors, and the Heaven and the Earth for auspiciousness and bumper harvest. In old days, "la腊" was a term for "sacrifice". Since Shang Dynasty 2,000 years ago, ancient Chinese had the custom of "sacrifice overall", i.e. the god(dess), the ancestors, and the Heaven and the Earth put together to be worshipped. They selected the day of December 8th, when is close to the end of the year, so people made an overall sacrifice to thank gods, ancestors and the Heaven and the Earth for the past happy year with sufficient supplies. In addition, Laba festival has the background related to the religion. It is legendary that Sakyamuni became the greatest Buddha under the tree of Buddha on December 8th because he drank the soup with mixed apple and sticky rice made by a nice girl who let off sheep to pasture. Since then, people who believe in Buddha drink the soup and read Buddhist scriptures on December 8th.
Laba soup is the necessary food for the Day. Chinese people has remained this custom for over one thousand years since Song Dynasty (960 A.D. - 1279 A.D.). All families sit together to drink the soup in memory of ancestors and thank the Heaven and the Earth, and gods, then send the soup to relatives and friends. The cooking way to make the soup is different from place to place, and the brand is various. Among them, the Beijing brand is the most particular one. More than 20 different kinds of plant materials are made into the soup, including rice, Chinese dates, almonds, lotus seeds, grape raisins, roses, red beans, peanuts, pine nuts, chestnuts, walnuts, longans, water chestnuts, gingos, Chinese yam, and so on. People begin to prepare it at the night of the previous day. Normally, they begin to cook it in the middle night, first braised in high temperature, then simmered in low temperature. Until the early morning, the soup is ready. In ancient time, people could make those materials into various shapes of beasts, birds, flowers, etc. For instance, they used dates to make a body, walnut kernel to make a head, peach kernel to make feet, and sweet almonds to make a tail, then stuck them together with sugar syrup. Put it in a bowl, looking like a little lion. When the soup is ready, families do not eat it first. They must sacrifice it to the gods and the ancestors, then they send some to friends and relatives. Furthermore, the soup has to be sent out as gift before noon. Then, the families can eat it. If there is leftover after everybody gets satisfied, it will be an auspicious sign, because that means "year by year enough". People send the spare soup to the poor, which means "accumulation of good virtues for next generations".
There are some other foods for the Day in different places, such as Laba Noodle at places where people do not plant rice, Laba Tofu in An Hui province, and even Laba Ice. Legendarily, eating ice on the Day can avoid pain in stomach for a whole next year.
Today, people still spend the Day, but not much care. Young generations may have forgotten at all. And the Laba Soup has become more a business. However, there always people who remember and keep in traditions, and find and learn wisdom from ancestors. Wish more and more people know and like such a traditional festival!