At dawn, Buddhist temples across China started to hand out free Laba congee, a special meal served at the Laba Festival which ushers in China's Lunar New Year celebrations.
The Laba porridge is made from a dozen varieties of grains including glutinous rice, red beans, millet, Chinese sorghum, peas, dried lotus seeds, and red beans.
"Laba" falls on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month. The Laba Festival is considered a prelude to the Spring Festival, or Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb. 5 this year.
Chinese people believe the festival meal of Laba congee bears the auspicious meaning of a shared wish for harvest and abundance.
The Laba Festival is also an important holiday in Buddhism. Temples offer porridge to the public to commemorate the Buddha and deliver his blessings.
"As the legend goes, once when General Yue Fei in the Song Dynasty led his troops through Henan, his army was short of food. Villagers took out their own grains to cook a cauldron of porridge for the soldiers," Zhang explained while cooking.
The porridge-giving warmed up the festival atmosphere in the village. Many shops started to sell sugar-coated figurines and malt sugar, the traditional Chinese candy for the Spring Festival.
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