Don't Be a Fool, Eat Your Gruel: The Story Behind Eating Porridge for Laba Festival

Traditionally, the last month of the calendar was a time to honor the ancestors and pray for health, a good harvest, and prosperity in the coming year. Origin stories for the use of porridge as part of the festival vary. One popular account suggests that the first Laba porridge was made from the orts and leavings an unfortunate woman was able to beg from her neighbors after her unfilial son booted her from their family home. 

As is the case with many holidays around the world, a new religion appropriated and blended existing practices to create new meanings for old traditions. With the expansion of Buddhism in China, this day took on a fresh significance – as a celebration of the date on which Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, achieved enlightenment.