The Tibetan New Year is referred to as Losar. The Tibetan Calendar is based on the lunar calendar and consists of twelve (or thirteen) months. Losar starts on the first day of the first month of the Tibetan Calendar when the new moon is sighted. Oftentimes, Losar and the Chinese New Year begin on the same date, but sometimes they might have a difference of a day, or even a lunar month.
To mark the Losar, a three-day festival is celebrated by Tibetans worldwide with prayers, hanging prayer flags, ceremonies, folk dances, passing fire torches among gatherings, and friends and family reunions. As one of the most widely celebrated Tibetan festivals, Losar is a time when Tibetan cultural values are greatly exhibited. Warm greetings are exchanged with everyone from family members to neighbors. Delicious Tibetan food such as Dresi, Kabsay, Guthuk, different varieties of meat, bread, butter tea and other dishes are served to guests who are invited into homes. Families visit temples to offer prayers and give gifts to monks.
Losar of the Past
The Losar festivities have roots dating back to the pre-Buddhist period when Tibetans were followers of the Bon religion. Every winter, a spiritual ceremony was organized in which local spirits and deities were given offerings such as incense to please them. Later on this religious festival became an annual Buddhist farmers’ festival held during the blossoming of flowers on apricot trees. Over time, when the lunar calendar came into being, the farmers’ festival journeyed to becoming the festival of Losar.
Celebration of Losar
Preparation for the festivities begin a month before the end of the year. Houses are cleaned thoroughly, new clothes are made for the family to wear during the festival, and different food offerings are made on the family alter. The eight auspicious symbols and other signs are drawn on the house walls using white powder or are hung as wall hangings. The monasteries are also decorated and the protector deities are respected with devotional rituals.
The first day of the New Year is called Lama Losar when all the Tibetan Buddhists greet their respective gurus and wish each other prosperity for the year ahead. For a good harvest, offerings of barley seeds and tsampa are made to home alters. Tibetan women get up early to cook barley wine and prepare a dish called Dresi. Families visits the local monastery to offer prayers and attend sermons.
The second day is King’s Losar when the revered Dalai Lama exchanges greetings with national leaders. In ancient times a tribute was paid to the kings who would also offer gifts to the public.
Offerings are given to the various Gods and protectors on Choe-kyong Losar, the 3rd day of the New Year. Prayer flags are hung and devotees visit monasteries, shrines and stupas.
After the three days, Tibetans engage in parties and get-togethers for 15 days ending the festivities with Chunga Choepa, the Butter Lamp Festival at the first full moon.