Children with Losar Head GearsImage Courtesy of twitter.com/sfthq
Happy Losar to Tibetans all over the world! This year is considered 2148 as reckoned in the Tibetan lunar calendar, and also the year of the Iron Ox. Right now, Tibetans and their homes are suffused with the spirit of joy and jubilation as they gear up to celebrate the incoming year. It would not be complete without the offerings, incense, and giving praises to the Buddhas for happiness and prosperity for humans and other sentient beings. And everywhere, one would hear the cheerful greetings of Tashi Delek, see super excited youngsters, and adults binging and living it up.
Let’s take a closer look at this venerated and inspiring New Year’s tradition in Tibet.
Losar Is New Year for Tibetans
Losar DhekhaImage Courtesy of beyondherkitchen.com
‘Losar’ is New Year in the Tibetan language. Lo means year and, as you may have guessed, Sar means new. As it is based on the Tibetan calendar that follows the moon’s cycles, it will have a different date each year. This year, 2021, it will be on February 12, on the Western Gregorian or present-day calendar. The observance of Losar as the start of a new year has already been entrenched in the Bon’s religious festival of incense-burning in the winter.
Monks Prayer Session
In a nutshell, it is one of the most important, if not the most important, traditional Tibetan fests each year. Families reunite and engage in many customs and festivities in celebration of Losar. It is marked by an intensely religious atmosphere in the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism customs and practices.
A Well-Prepared and Celebrated New Year
Some Losar traditions may be quite similar to the Chinese New Year, but it is quite unique in many ways and must not be confused with it. As the most important festival in Tibetan culture, the preparation for the celebration can start as early as in the second half or from the 15th day of December. Putting up decorations and sprucing up the homes may already be happening. The first three to seven days of roughly half a month celebration of Losar are dedicated to the main celebrations. So, the excitement, anticipation, and various kinds of preparation to be done put the Tibetans in a busy yet holiday mood.
Family Celebration Time Image Courtesy of beyondherkitchen.com
On the first day of Losar, New Year’s Day to be exact, the family wakes up early, around dawn, that is, before sunrise to welcome the New Year and just stay home with their family. This is not surprising as the family is held as the most important people in one’s life, especially in a Tibetan household. There are also a few things to be carried out on New Year’s Day.
For one, as a petition for a prosperous New Year, before daybreak, pine rosin with wheat ears and dyed barley must be placed on the roof and burned. The women fetch water from a nearby lake or river. The first bucket is considered the ‘golden water’ while the second bucket of water is the “silver water” which will give good luck, good fortune, and wealth. This is considered as the first water for the New Year and therefore considered a petition for good fortune and prosperity. Members of the family use the water to wash their faces. Once they are done, and other household chores are completed, family members put on their best clothes.
The mother also offers the Chemar (Barley & Butter) box to each member of the family to take ‘Tsampa,’ a Tibetan staple food item. Then each family member thanks the mother and the others with prayers and greetings.
Must Have Losar Foods
Tibetans also wear costumes and feed themselves with festive foods, with the fresher ones first, and the others last. To be blessed with good health, happiness, harmony, and prosperity, Tibetans would give ‘Chemar’ to their neighbours to bless them, with highland barley wine, and recite the ‘Tashi Delek Phun Sum Sok’ and ‘Ama Bakdro Kunkham Sang.’ Farmers and herdsmen who believe in Buddhism would go to the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa to pray for good health and peace for the New Year.
Losar Kabsey Image Courtesy of yowangdu.com
A more modern-day custom adopted from the Chinese is about gift-giving for children. They are given red envelopes with money inside by their relatives. It is a gesture of wishing them a prosperous and good fortune in their future. These red envelopes also provide protection to the children from malevolent spirits, sickness, and death.
Tibetan Kids Losar Dance Image Courtesy of thefairytaletraveler.com
Friends and relatives start to visit one another greeting them with best wishes for the New Year, and blessing one another with ‘Tashi Delek’ and giving ‘Khata.’ After inviting the visitors in, the host will offer them Chemar (Barley & Butter). Then, as a tradition, the guest will pinch out bits of highland barley and “Tsampa” in the Chemar, toss them up into the air while praying to heaven, earth, and the gods. And then they enjoy eating the rest of the Schema.
Afterward, the host serves highland barley wine and wine bowl and invite the guests to drink with him for a toast. The guests will take the drink and have at least three and then engage in singing. The guests must finish the last glass of wine as the singing ends.
In the open fields or the plaza to further celebrate the New Year, men and women in their costumes can be seen holding one another in a circle and dance the ‘GorShey,’ which means a ‘circle dance.’
Tibetan Circle Dance Image Courtesy of tibettravel.org
The third day is celebrated by offering sacrifices and prayers done in high places such as a roof deck of a home, or a balcony. Mulberries are prepared and simmered and new prayer flags are hung on a portion of the roof. Neighbours exchange blessings again and give respect to one another with Chemar (Barley & Butter) and barley wine. They also sing and dance together in that high place, or a courtyard.
Groups of people go to the front of the ‘Jokhang Temple’ and the Gyambul Otse, which means High Pass Peak. There they simmer mulberries, set up the prayer flags, and then recite prayers for blessings.
The festivities continue after the 3 days of celebration, with even more intensity and passion. In many places, they continue to be held, with ceremonies conducted for peace, good health, and plentiful harvest. Prayer flags are hung everywhere possible, and other engaging activities are held. For relaxation and recreational activities, there will be shows to watch and enjoy, such as Tibetan operas or plays, singing, and dancing. It is also a great time for relatives and friends to catch up with one another, have a great time while enjoying good food and drinks. These activities continue up to the Tibetan calendar’s first month.
Final thoughts. . .
Again, Happy Losar to Tibetans all over the world! With every new year comes the opportunity to make the best version of ourselves, in our relationships, our calling or profession, and our relationship with others. We embrace and make good use of all the prosperity, happiness, blessings, and opportunities that come our way.
Tibetan Horse Race Image Courtesy of tibettravel.org
RESOURCESTop 10 Interesting Facts about Tibetan New Year (tibettravel.org)
Losar Tibetan New Year 2021: Culture and Celebrations (greattibettour.com)
Tibetan New Year (Losar) | RitiRiwaz
Thank you so much for this post! I love learning new things from different cultures, and this was very interesting to read!