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Tibetan New Year Celebration

Tibetan New Year is also called Losar. Losar is the Tibetan word for "new year." Lo means "year, age" and “sar” holds the semantic field "new, fresh". Losar is the most important holiday in Tibet, similar to the Spring Festival in whole China.

In Tibet and its adjoining provinces, This religious festival is celebrated from December 29 through January 15 according to Tibetan calendar. Ttbetan calendar, with a history of 1000 years, has retained its features although it was greatly influenced by the Han and other nationalities. The festival always takes place less a month earlier or later than Chinese Spring Festival since the Tibetan calendar is based on or similar to the traditional Chinese calendar. There are some pictures on Tibet New Year Tours to view.

It's interesting to learn these Tibetan folk customs through Losar, just as another Tibetan attraction to visitors. Losar is celebrated for 15 days, with the main celebrations on the first three days. On the first day of Losar, a beverage called changkol is made from chhaang (a Tibetan cousin of beer). The second day of Losar is known as King's Losar (gyalpo losar). Losar is traditionally preceded by the five day practice of Vajrakilaya. Although it often falls on the same day as the Chinese New Year (sometimes with one day or occasionally with one lunar month difference), it is generally not thought to be culturally directly connected to that holiday. It is culturally more related to Tsagaan Sar in Mongolia than to the Chinese New Year festivity.

Traditionally, all Tibetan families start in the middle of December, to prepare butter, milk tea, buttered tea, Qingke Wine (This wine is called Chang or Chong in Tibetan; Qingke is a kind of highland barley in China), mutton and some other holiday food. On the night of December 29, they do a thorough cleaning and dump all the waste at crossroads, believing that the dirty things harmful to the health and happiness of the family members are thrown away with it.

On New Year's Eve, the families clean up their courtyard and spray water on it. They adorn the doors and windows with colorful fragrant cloth, and display on a table a Qiema (a container), a sheep head, Qingke wine, fruit, etc.

Before daybreak on Tibetan New Year's Day, people burn pine rosin and place dyed Qingke barley and ears of wheat on the roof, a wish for a prosperous new year. Women get up early to carry home buckets of auspicious water from the river. The other family members stay in bed, waiting to wash their faces with the water. This done and livestock fed, men put on new Tibetan robes and boots while women are dressed with colorful Bangdian (that is, aprons), and headdress dotted with corals, agates and pearls. The mother of the family then places the Qiema before everyone and each takes a little Zamba (the Tibetans' main food) out of it while saying prayers like Zhaxidele (all the best) and Geshaersang (Happy New Year). Visits not allowed, all the family members stay home and enjoy holiday food and drinks.

Losar is also celebrated in Bhutan, although different regions in the country have their own respective new years. The Nepalese New Year, referred to as either Losar or Lhochaar, is celebrated by the Sherpa, Tamang and Gurung people, who usually count their age by calculating Lho.

This festival took place during the flowering of the apricot trees of the Lhokha Yarla Shampo region in autumn, and it may have been the first celebration of what has become the traditional farmers' festival. It was during this period that the arts of cultivation, irrigation, refining iron from ore and building bridges were first introduced in Tibet. The ceremonies which were instituted to celebrate these new capabilities can be recognized as precursors of the Losar festival. Later when the rudiments of astrology, based on the five elements, were introduced in Tibet, this farmer's festival became what we now call the Losar or New Year's festival.

During Losar, the Tibetan celebration of the new year, we did not drink champagne to celebrate. Instead, we went to the local spring to perform a ritual of gratitude. We made offerings to the nagas, the water spirits who activated the water element in the area. We made smoke offerings to the local spirits associated with the natural world around us. Beliefs and behaviors like ours evolved long ago and are often seen as primitive in the West. But they are not only projections of human fears onto the natural world, as some anthropologists and historians suggest. Our way of relating to the elements originated in the direct experiences by our sages and common people of the sacred nature of the external and internal elements. We call these elements earth, water, fire, air, and space.

The Gumpa being performed in Lachung during the Buddhist festival of Losar.The Tibetan calendar is made up of twelve lunar months and Losar begins on the first day of the first month. In the monasteries, the celebrations for the Losar begin on the twenty-ninth day of the twelfth month. That is the day before the Tibetan New Year's Eve. On that day the monasteries do a protector deities' puja (a special kind of ritual) and begin preparations for the Losar celebrations. The custom that day is to make special noodle called guthuk. It is made of nine different ingredients including dried cheese and various grains. Also, dough balls are given out with various ingredients hidden in them such as chilies, salt, wool, rice and coal. The ingredients one finds hidden in one's dough ball are supposed to be a lighthearted comment on one's character. If a person finds chilies in their dough, it means they are talkative. If white-colored ingredients like salt, wool or rice are inside the dough it is considered a good sign. If a person finds coal in the dough it has much the same meaning as finding coal in one's Christmas stocking; it means you have a "black heart".

The last day of the year is a time to clean and prepare for the approaching New Year.[4] In the monasteries it is a day of preparations. The finest decorations are put up and elaborate offerings are made called "Lama Losar". In the early dawn of this day, the monks of Namgyal Monastery offer a 'sacrificial cake' (Tibetan: tor ma) on top of the main temple (Potala in Tibet) to the supreme hierarchy of Dharma protectors, the glorious goddess Palden Lhamo. Led by the Dalai Lama, the abbots of three great monasteries, lamas, reincarnated monks or tulku, government officials and dignitaries join the ceremony and offer their contemplative prayers, while the monks of Namgyal Monastery recite the invocation of Palden Lhamo. After the completion of this ceremony, all assemble in the hall called Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana for a formal greeting ceremony. Seated on his or her respective cushions, everyone exchanges the traditional greeting, "Tashi Delek".

In order to wish His Holiness the Dalai Lama good luck for the coming year, consecrated 'sacred pills' (Tibetan: ril bu) made out of roasted barley dough are offered to him by the representatives of the three great monasteries, the two Tantric Colleges, etc. Then entertainers (garma) perform a dance of good wishes. And two senior monks stage a debate on Buddhist philosophy, and conclude their debate with an auspicious recitation composed especially for the event, in which the whole spectrum of Buddhist teaching is first briefly reviewed. A request is made to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to all holders of the doctrine to remain for a long time amongst beings in Samsara (Sanskrit) in order to serve them through their enlightened activities. The official ceremony of the day then concludes with a ceremonial farewell to the His Holiness, who then retires to his palace.

The second day of Losar is known as King's Losar (gyal-po lo-sar) because officially the day is reserved for a secular gathering in the hall of Excellence of Samsara and Nirvana. His Holiness and his government exchange greetings with both monastic and lay dignitaries, such as representatives of China, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia and other foreign visitors.

Then from the third day onwards, the people and monks begin to celebrate and enjoy the festive season. In many parts of Tibet, Losar is celebrated for fifteen days or more. In India it is celebrated for three days. In other countries celebrations may be as little as one day.

The Losar is also celebrated across the Himalayas in India as well, where there is a strong concentration of the Buddhist population in the states like Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Himachal and Ladakh in Kashmir. The Monpa tribe of Tawang and the Memba of the Mechukha valley of Arunachal celebrate Losar. Yet strangely the Memba of Mechukha celebrate Losar one month earlier than the other Losar-celebrating peoples.

Phurbu Thinley states that:
It is time again for Tibetans around the world to celebrate their Losar; this time- the Year of the Earth Mouse 2135. Tibetans and a section of Buddhists around the world will celebrate Losar on Thursday, February 7, 2008. The celebration normally lasts for three days, and it all means time for greetings, togetherness and abundant festivities, and time for prayers as well.

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