Tibetan New Year

The Tibetan New Year, or Losar (the Tibetan word for “new year”), is the most important festival in Tibet.

Tibetan New Year (Losar)

The Tibetan people begin preparing for New Year early in the 12th month according to the Tibetan calendar. Besides doing New Year shopping, each household has to get ready a “Five-Cereal Container” called “Chemar”, which is a rich-carved colorful wooden box with tsampa and highland barley in each half, decorated with wheat ears and yak butter sculptures. The “Chemar” will be enshrined in the middle of the offering table to pray for a bumper harvest and better life in the coming year. Moreover, people will put highland barley seeds in a bowl of fresh water so that they can grow into one-or-two-inch-long green shoots when the New Year arrives. They also make “Kasai”, which is a kind of fried wheat dough mixed with butter in various shapes, as religious offerings and also for visiting guests.

Tibetan New Year-special purchases for the New Year

From Dec. 28, people begin to clean up their houses. And on Dec. 29, they will change door and window curtains and paint patterns symbolizing eternity and good luck on the gates with lime. In the evening, all family members reunite together and eat dough drops (known as Gutu in Tibetan), some of which include stone, wool, hot pepper, charcoal or coins inside. These items are said to be able to foretell the nature or future fortune of the person who eats them. For example, stone implies a cruel heart, wool stands for a soft heart, charcoal for a black heart, hot pepper for tough talking and coins for good fortune…After dinner, the whole family will participate in a grand ritual designed to ward-off evil spirits.

On the first day of the New Year, Tibetan women usually get up in the dawn and go out to fetch first bucket of “lucky water” from the well or river nearby. It is said that water at this time is the freshest and sweetest and the family who get the lucky water earliest will be the most fortunate.

The Tibetan people usually don’t go out or visit each other on the first day of the New Year, which is different from the traditional Chinese New Year. From the second day, people in their holiday best begin to pay New Year’s visits to their friends and relatives, which will last 3-5 days. Holding Chemars and barley wine in their hands, people extend greetings to each other with the auspicious words “tashi delek” (which means “blessings and good luck”) and present “khatag”.

Tibetan New Year-Chemar

To change the prayer flags is also an important New Year’s activity. According to custom, the old prayer flags are replaced with new ones annually on the Tibetan New Year. People will choose an auspicious day according to the Tibetan calendar to set up brand-new prayer flags on the roof, which is accompanied by a grand ceremony.

Tibetan New Year-Old prayer flags are replaced with new ones annually on the Tibetan New Year

During the New Year, mass singing and dancing, as well as traditional Tibetan operas, are performed in towns and villages across Tibet. The herdsmen of the grasslands light a bonfire, singing and dancing around it all through the night. In some places, there are contests like tug of war, horse racing, arrow-shooting, wrestling and throwing. On the 15th day, religious activities are held in the large part of Tibetan areas.

Tibetan Opera

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