Tibet has 20 or 30 big and small traditional festivals a year. During the festivals, friends get together. Both men and women sing songs and perform dances and vie to demonstrate their artistic abilities. These festivals have a long history and most are connected with religion. As the time goes, these festivals have a tendency towards folk customs and pleasure.
Time: The 1st day of the 1st month by the Tibetan calendar (in February or March)
Venue: The areas where the Tibetan people live in compact communities
What’s on: It is the most important festival for the Tibetan people every year. At the daybreak on the New Year Day, the Tibetan men and women in their holiday best would hold qingke (highland barley) wine to pay New Year calls to their friends, saying “Zhaxi Dele” (meaning good luck and happiness) to each other. In the following days, the Tibetan people would sing and dance, pay visits to their friends and relatives and drink wine.
Time: The 15th day of the 1st month by the Tibetan calendar
What’s on: During the festival, the lamas of all the monasteries and folk handicraftsmen would sculpture various types of colorful butter lanterns and hang them on the racks on both sides of the Jokhang Monastery. At nightfall, the butter lanterns are lit, which are like thousands of stars sparkling on both sides of the street. The Tibetan people also use butter to sculpture flowers, immortals, figurines, birds and animals.
Time: The 10th day to the 27th day of the 4th month by the Tibetan calendar
What’s on: This festival was firstly celebrated in 1408 to commemorate the death of Pagba Sangpug, King of Gyangze in the Sa’gya Regime. During the festival, the local people would ride horses, shoot arrows, watch Tibetan Opera, do singing and dancing and conduct material exchanges.
Time: The 15th day of the 4th month by the Tibetan calendar
What’s on: It is commonly known as the Freeing Captive Animals Festival. Legend has it that the 15th day of the 4th month by the Tibetan calendar is the anniversary of Sakyamuni’s birth, enlightenment and death. On the day every year, the Tibetan people would dress up, row boats on the Dragon King Pond, do singing and dancing, and have a picnic in the parks.
Time: The 4th day of the 6th month by the Tibetan calendar
Venue: U-Shaped Area
What’s on: It is a Buddhist festival, also called “Damyi Deqen”, aiming to commemorate the day when Sakyamuni passed on the Four Great Sutras orally. On the very day, the Tibetan people would put on their holiday best, bring some food with them and go to the nearby monastery to worship Buddha, chant sutras and pray for good luck. Then they would drink wine on the grassland, and do singing and dancing.
Time: The 1st day of the 7th month by the Tibetan calendar (in August)
What’s on: According to the Tibetan tradition, after a monk has paid painstaking efforts to finish cultivating himself, his family members would come to welcome him with cheese while doing singing and dancing. In the Tibetan language, Shoton means “Yoghourt Banquet”. Starting from the 17th century, the artists of Tibetan Opera from all over the country would gather at the Norbu Lingka in Lhasa to attend the performance competition during the festival. The performances would last several days running. In addition, the Drepung Monastery would hold the annual Sunning the Buddha Ceremony.
Time: From the 6th day to the 12th day of the 7th month by the Tibetan calendar (the week when Mercury and Hesper appear)
Venue: Lhasa, Xigaze, Shannan and other places
What’s on: The Tibetan people believe the water in this week is especially pure and can help people to get rid of filth, cure diseases and improve their health. Therefore the Tibetan people would go to the rivers to take a bath, wash clothes and play in water on the day every year.
Time: An auspicious day to be chosen before the autumn harvest (in the seventh or eighth month by the Tibetan calendar)
Venue: Lhasa, Xigaze, Shannan and other places
What’s on: It is a traditional festival for the Tibetan peasants to celebrate the bumper harvest. Generally, it is held two or three days before the farmers start harvesting qingke (highland barley). The date will be decided by the farmers of a township. At the festival, the Tibetan people would wear their best attire, hold high colorful flags, qingke tied up with katag (white greeting scarves) and the bumper harvest pagoda made of ears of wheat, beat gongs and drums, sing songs and walk around the fields to pray for a bumper harvest. Then, various folk activities are held, such as the performances of Tibetan Opera, songs and dances, ridding horses, shooting arrows, playing the tug-of-war, etc. The autumn harvest would begin right after the festival.
Time: August 10
Venue: North Tibet
What’s on: It is the most important festival for the people in North Tibet. In the golden season, thousands upon thousands of herdsmen on the grassland would ride horses and bring various types of products to gather at Nagqu. In the south of Nagqu Town, a large number of tents would be set up. During the festival, the inspiring horserace, the archery competition and the performances of horsemanship would be held.
Time: The 1st day of the 10th month by the Tibetan calendar (in November or December)
What’s on: Legend has it that the king of Gongbo once led the people to fight against the invaders. To commemorate the heroic soldiers who laid down their lives in the war, the people in Gongbo offered sacrifices to the deceased and kept watch at night. With the passage of time, it has become the Gongbo Festival. During the festival, the local people would do dancing, hold the horserace, shoot arrows, exchange materials, drink wine and sing songs.
Time: The 15th day of the 10th month by the Tibetan calendar
What’s on: It is also called the Heavenly Mother Festival. During the festival, some religious activities are held. The Tibetan women believe the Fairy Maiden Festival is the women’s festival, so they are very active and happy.
Time: The 25th day of the 10th month by the Tibetan calendar (in November or December)
What’s on: Legend has it that it was the death anniversary of Tsongkhapa, a great reformer and the founder of the Gelug Sect. On the day, every family would light butter lamps on their roof, and chant sutras to sing the praises of Tsongkhapa.
Time: The 29th day of the 12th month by the Tibetan calendar
What’s on: On the day, all the monasteries in Tibet would hold a grand activity of dancing to exorcise demons; and every family would make a general cleaning and decorate the house. The Tibetan people believe that before the coming of the New Year, all the demons and filth must be swept away so as to pray for a favorable weather and a bumper harvest in the coming year.