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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class- Holidays in China Series at ChineseClass101.com. In this series, we’re exploring the traditions behind Chinese holidays and observances. I’m Eric, and you're listening to Season 1, Lesson 24. Laba Festival. In Chinese, it’s called 腊八节 (làbā jié).
The eighth day of the twelfth lunar month is the traditional Laba Festival in China. Laba congee or 腊八粥 (làbāzhōu) and Laba garlic or 腊八蒜 (làbā suàn) are dishes that are served on this day. These are some of the most traditional and exquisite customary dishes in China. In this lesson, we’ll learn more about the Laba Festival.
Now, before we get into more detail, do you know the answer to this question-
Why is the Laba Festival also considered a day for “doing accounts and repaying debt”?
If you don't already know, you’ll find out a bit later. Keep listening.
In ancient times, the twelfth lunar month was called 腊月 (làyuè). The character “La” in ancient Chinese indicates the transition from the old to the new, and its radical represents meat. In ancient times, people held sacrifices with cattle and lambs in honor of the gods at the end of the year, which is why the last lunar month is called 腊月 (làyuè).
The most important custom during the Laba Festival is eating Laba congee. This dish is either sweet or salty, and is cooked with a mix of eight kinds of fresh grain, vegetables and fruits. The ingredients of Beijing Laba congee are carefully selected. It involves at least twenty different ingredients, including red dates, lotus seeds, walnuts, chestnuts, and almonds, which help make the congee highly nutritious.
Cooking Laba congee takes a lot of time and preparation. People start preparing the ingredients for the dish on the eve of the Laba festival, and begin cooking it at midnight, a process that continues well into the next morning.
Making Laba garlic is a custom in the north. Making this dish involves placing cloves of garlic inside a sealed container along with vinegar and storing it in a cold place. When the cloves turn emerald green, they are ready to be served.
In some areas, there is the custom of eating ice or 吃冰 (chī bīng) that has been frozen in a basin during the Laba Festival. It is said that ice has a magical effect on Laba, and that if you eat it during the festival, you won’t get stomachaches over the next year.
Now it's time to answer our quiz question-
Why is the Laba Festival also considered a day for “doing accounts and repaying debt”?
In Chinese, garlic or 蒜 (suàn) and calculation or 算 (suàn) are homophonous. On Laba, all stores check their year’s balance, which is a referred to as the "Laba count". Based on this check, debtors send messages to their creditors asking them to prepare for payment.
What did you think of this lesson? Did you learn anything interesting?
Do people have a custom of eating congee in your country? Please leave a comment telling us at ChineseClass101.com, and I'll see you in our next lesson. Bye!