Thousands of residents wait in front of the city's Jade Buddha Temple to eat the "Laba" congee for the traditional Laba Festival on January 24. (Jiang Xiaowei/SHINE)
Thousands of residents waited in front of Shanghai's Jade Buddha Temple this morning to eat free "Laba" congee for the traditional Laba Festival that falls today.
Led by the abbot Juexing, the temple monks and volunteers began dishing out a total of 3,000 bowls of hot Laba porridge to the public from 9:30am. The earliest worshippers waited in front of the temple from 4am on Anyuan Road in Putuo District.
Laba means the eighth day of the twelfth month of the lunar calendar, which was also the enlightenment day of the Buddha. The festival has been celebrated for some 1,500 years.
The recipe for the congee varies, but the traditional dish usually contains grain, dried lotus seeds, longan, gingko, dried red dates, chestnuts, peanuts, walnuts, raisins and melon seeds.
A long line of people, mostly seniors, stretched from the temple gate on Anyuan Road to the pedestrian ways along Jiangning and Xinhui roads. People were orderly and chatting with each other, although several police officers came to maintain order and direct traffic in the area.
"It is believed that eating the Laba congee distributed by the temple can bring about health and good luck," said Liu Jinmei, a 75-year-old local worshipper who waited in front of the temple from 8am. Others agreed that the congee symbolizes blessings from the temple rather than a chance for a free snack. Some said they would take the congee back to seniors or children at home.
It has become a tradition for the temple to distribute Laba congee on the festival since 2009. Additional servings were given out to 2,000 seniors of nursing homes across the city today.
As Laba falls in the last lunar month, it serves as a prelude for the Lunar New Year, which will be on February 16 this year.
At home, people usually prepare Laba garlic by steeping cloves in vinegar until they turn green. There is also Laba noodles, and Laba Tofu.
Those who missed out on free congee today needn't worry, though: Many prefer just to cook it themselves.