As the entire house is cleaned, so also are its Altars. Statues are washed or polished, images of Deities given new frames, and fresh fruit, flowers and candles offered. Peach blossoms, kumquat, sunflower, narcissus and chrysanthemum are flowers symbolic of prosperity, longevity and good luck in the coming year.
Preparations such as these may begin as early as three weeks before New Years Day, on or around what is the official commencement of the Spring Festival: Rice Porridge Day (also known as the Laba Festival), which falls on the 8th day of the 12th lunar month. In terms of the Gregorian calendar, this year’s Rice Porridge Day is January 8, 2014.
On this day, it is traditional to consume a hot rice porridge called Laba Zhou. “Laba” means “gold eighth” – referring to the eighth day of the last lunar month. The ingredients of Laba Zhou include glutinous rice, red beans, millet, Chinese sorghum and peas, along with some combination of almonds, walnuts, chestnuts, peanuts, dates and/or dried lotus seeds.
The legend about the origins of Rice Porridge Day comes from Buddhism. The eating of Laba Zhou is in honor of the shepherd girl who gave a bowl of milk porridge to the nearly-starved Siddharta Guatama. This led to the emaciated yogi forsaking his ascetic practices and, soon after (strengthened by the nourishment provided), attaining Enlightenment – becoming a Buddha.