Even though “our” New Year is far gone, the Tibetans all around the world celebrate their New Year called Losar in these days (February 27, 2017). If your life is reined by the Tibetan lunar calendar, welcome to 2144, the year of fire rooster!

Losar starts on the first day of the lunar calendar and the festivities that can last up to 15 days are full of fun and traditions. The celebration of Losar, however, starts two days in advance by no other means but a celebratory dinner. Traditionally, a soup called Guthuk is served among family. In the Tibetan exile, though, the soup is also enjoyed among friends. If you keep the custom and eat your portion on this day, any obstacles, illness or bad habits will be overcome in the next year!

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Guthuk – traditional meat soup served two days before the New Year

The last day of the year is called “Full Sky”. Every household engages in detailed cleaning, they hang decorations, change curtains and sheets, make the tables, start to prepare offerings for the dieties and specialities for the oncoming days. Sweet rice with droma is cooked, Tibetan cookies kore are baked, khabse are fried, cakes are made from dried cheese, butter and sugar, and the tables are set with trays bountiful with fruit, juice and other delicacies.

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New Year decoration in HH the Dalai Lama’s temple, Mcleod Ganj, India, 2017

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Cake “Thu” made from dried cheese, butter and sugar, and “khabsey” in the background

I received the following photos from a family in Kham, Tibet. Please excuse the quality.

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“Chemar”, a decorative “box” filled with roasted barley flour mixed with butter (right side) and barley seeds (left side). Chemar is usually placed close to an altar. When a guest enters the house, he or she offers to the dieties three pinches of tsampa and barley seed by throwing them in the air.

First day of Losar

People get up very early on the first day of the New Year. It is customary in villages (especially for women) to try to fetch a bucket of water from the nearest stream or river. Whoever gets the water first will bring good luck to the family. You might be wondering now how the person can be sure that she was the first one… Well, it’s Tibet in winter we’re talking about so the footsteps in snow will show the truth.. 😉

People start sending each other New Year wishes mainly through Wechat (neither Facebook nor WhatsApp work in Tibet as the Chinese government banned them. Wechat, on the other hand, is a Chinese application via which the Tibetans are eavesdropped on. They are very well aware of this fact, and hence they never use words such as freedom or Dalai Lama in conversations that may cost them and their families interrogation, prison, and torture.

In the morning, whole families put on their best traditional clothes: women wear chupa with a colorful apron (if they’re married) and men wear sheep lining coats with high boots. And just because they set off to visit the nearest temple and its lama, this day is also called “Lama’s New Year”. On the way back home they visit their neighbors in order to offer them a gift in a form of roasted barley flour called tsampa mixed with butter as an auspicious symbol. They won’t step over the threshold, though, as the first day of the New Year is celebrated at home exclusively. Everyone feasts, plays cards, sings and dances. Chang, Tibetan beer made from barley, is drunk as well as traditional butter tea.

 Second day of Losar

On the second day, on the other hand, families invite relatives and friends over and they celebrate together. This day is also called “Kings’ New Year” since the current Dalai Lama used to be visited in the Potala palace by dignitaries of neighboring countries that were present in Lhasa during Losar. In the countryside, you can see all the villagers sing, dance and have fun.

Third day of Losar

On the third day, aka “Day of the Dharma Protectors”, monks in the monasteries in Tibet and the entire world perform various ceremonies to honor the protector deities, Dharmapalas. Prayer flags called lungtas (lit. Wind Horse) decorated with mantras and prayers are hoisted. Each color of the flags represents one of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, space). And just because it is believed that wind carries the holy mantras and prayers through air, and hence blesses all sentient beings, the Tibetans hoist the flags on the top of mountains where they oversee valleys, or on the roof of one’s house.

Normally, this day would be the last day of Losar. Nevertheless, it is up each and every region in Tibet to decide for how long the festivities will continue. The gaieties keep going up to the 15th day of the first lunar month.

 Sweet RoadSTORIES

For how long would YOU like to celebrate the New Year?